Tag: The Smithsonian

Dogs: Aren’t They Incredible!

The love and admiration for this beautiful animal goes on and on!

It seems as though it is almost on a weekly basis that new and incredible facts about our dear, dear dogs come to the surface.

So what prompted this from me today!

Only a wonderful article that was originally published in New Scientist but then was carried by The Smithsonian. I am hoping that by fully linking this post to both the New Scientist article and the essay in The Smithsonian I am at liberty to republish it for all you good people.

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Dogs Use Deception to Get Treats, Study Shows

When a human partner withheld tasty snacks, the dogs got sneaky

Would these eyes deceive you? New study says yes. (johan63/iStock)

By Brigit Katz     smithsonian.com
March 10, 2017
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that dogs, in addition to looking adorable in sweaters, possess fairly sophisticated cognitive abilities. They recognize emotion, for example, and respond negatively to antisocial behavior between humans. Man’s best friend can also get pretty tricksy when it comes to scoring snacks. As Brian Owens reports for New Scientist, a recent study found that dogs are capable of using deceptive tactics to get their favorite treats.

The study, published in the journal Animal Cognition, was led by Marianne Heberlein of the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Experimental Studies at the University of Zürich. Heberlein told Owens that the idea for the study was born when she observed her pet pooches engaging in deceptive behavior; one sometimes pretends to see something interesting outside, prompting the other to give up his sleeping spot.

To find out if dogs engage in similar shenanigans with humans, Heberlein and a team of researchers paired 27 dogs with two different partners, Stanley Coren explains in Psychology Today. One of these partners would repeatedly go to the bowl of a given dog, fish out a treat, and give it to the pup. The other would show the treat to the dog, and then put it in her pocket. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the dogs began to show a preference for the more generous partners, and would approach them spontaneously.

Once one partner had been established as co-operative, the other as competitive, the dogs were taught to lead their partners to one of two boxes, both containing food, with the command “Show me the food.” And the same pattern was repeated: when the dogs led the co-operative partner to a treat, they got to eat it. The competitive partner withheld the treat.

Researchers then showed the dogs three covered boxes. One contained a sausage, the second contained a less-yummy dry biscuit, and the third was empty. Once again, the process of treat giving and withholding was repeated, but this time with a twist: when the dog was reunited with its owner, the owner asked it to choose one of the boxes. If there was a treat inside the box, the dog was allowed to eat it. But “if the dog chose the box which had been opened before,” Coren explains, “the owner just showed the empty box to the dog.”

Over the course of a two-day testing period, the dogs were repeatedly presented with this conundrum. They had been trained to lead both partners to boxes containing food, but they knew that the competitive partner would not let them eat the snacks. They also knew that if any snacks remained inside the boxes once they were reunited with their owners, they would get a chance to eat them. So the dogs got a little devious.

Researchers observed the pooches leading the co-operative partner to the box containing the sausage more often than expected by chance. They led the competitive partner to the sausage less often than expected by chance. And here’s where things get really interesting: the dogs took the competitive partner to the empty box more frequently than the co-operative partner, suggesting that they were working through their options and engaging in deliberate deception to maximize their chances of getting both treats.

“It is as though the dog is thinking, ‘Why should I tell that selfish person where the best treat [is] if it means that I will never get it?’,” writes Coren.

“These results show that dogs distinguished between the co-operative and the competitive partner,” the authors of the study write, “and indicate the flexibility of dogs to adjust their behaviour and that they are able to use tactical deception.”

Rest assured, dog lovers: your pooches may be sneaky, but they still love you more than cats.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/dogs-use-deception-get-treats-study-shows-180962492/#5r1vc6gkyLQoIQaL.99
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 The article from Brigit opened up with a picture of a pair of eyes; a pair of dog’s eyes.

I don’t know about you but some dogs have eyes that reach out and seem to illuminate one’s soul.

Our Oliver has just that set of eyes. I will close today’s post with a photograph of Oliver’s eyes that was taken yesterday afternoon.

Talk about the power of non-verbal communication!

Back to puppies!

Actually, some recent very interesting research on how puppies relate to the sounds of people around them.

A recent mailing under the SmartNews banner used by The Smithsonian Magazine seemed too good not to share with all you dog lovers.

Plus, our internet connection is not good at the moment so not going to dilly dally but go straight to the article that may be seen on the Smithsonian website here.

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Why Puppies Love Baby Talk

New research shows puppies respond strongly to high-pitched chatter, but most adult dogs could care less.

istock-511313058-jpg__800x600_q85_crop_subject_location-1501569By Jason Daley
smithsonian.com
January 11, 2017

Anyone who has lived with a dog will find themselves occasionally cooing to their pup in slow-paced, high-pitched baby talk (OK, maybe most of the time). And a new study suggests that our canines respond to such dulcet tones—well, puppies do at least.

The study, published this week in the Proceedings of Royal Society Bshows that the baby-talk, also known as dog-directed speech, gets a big response from puppies. Older dogs, however, aren’t super impressed, reports Virginia Morell at Science.

The study’s researchers had 30 female volunteers look at photographs of dogs while reading standard dog-directed phrases, like “Who’s a good boy?” and “Hello cutie!” (they didn’t use real dogs to minimize the speakers going off script). The volunteers also read the doggie praise to a human. The researchers found that women used the higher-pitched, sing-song baby-talk tone when reading the passages to the photos, making their voices 21 percent higher when reading to the puppy images. With the human, they spoke in their normal voice.

That was more or less expected. But when the researchers played recordings of the women’s voices to ten puppies and ten adult dogs at a New York animal shelter, there was a stark difference. The puppies went wild when they heard the dog-directed voices. Morell reports they barked and ran toward the loudspeaker, crouching down in a pose used to start a round of horseplay. When researchers played the same phrases using the women’s normal tone of voice, the puppies weren’t nearly as enthused.

The adult dogs, however, were a different story. “They didn’t care at all,” Nicolas Mathevon, a bioacoustician at the University of Lyon in Saint-Étienne, France, and co-author of the study tells Morell. “They had a quick look at the speaker, and then ignored it.”

There’s no clear reason why the puppies reacted so strongly to the baby talk and the mature animals didn’t. It’s possible the higher-pitched tones stimulate a special response in the puppies. Mathevon tells Helen Briggs at the BBC that it may be related to a theory called the baby schema. In that hypothesis, humans evolved to find big eyes, big heads and round cheeks irresistibly cute. That helps parents bond with children, convincing them to spend the endless hours required to feed and tend to infants. Many of those cues are also found in baby animals.

But there may be more to the response.  “One of the hypotheses was that we humans use this dog-directed speech because we are sensitive to the baby cues that come from the face of a small baby [animal] as we are sensitive to the faces of our babies,” he tells Briggs. “But actually our study demonstrates that we use pet-directed speech or infant-directed speech not only because of that but maybe we use this kind of speech pattern when we want to engage and interact with a non-speaking listener. Maybe this speaking strategy is used in any context when we feel that the listener may not fully master the language or has difficulty to understand us.”

Over time humans have bred dogs to be more baby-like, which only makes humans bond with them more, Evan Maclean, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Arizona not involved in the study tells Nicola Davis at The Guardian. “As a result of selection for juvenile traits, dogs emit a lot of signals that scream ‘baby’ to humans, which can facilitate special kinds of interactions with dogs that are normally reserved for children,” he says. “The question we don’t have a great answer to is whether there are long term functional consequences of interacting with dogs in this way (e.g. effects on word learning), or if this is just a byproduct of the baby-like cues that dogs inundate us with.”

So why did the older dogs just keep chewing their bones when they heard the strangers’ voices coming from the speaker? “[M]aybe older dogs do not react that way because they are just more choosy and they want only to react with a familiar person,” Mathevon tells Briggs.

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I think there’s more to this than the slightly light-hearted tone that came across in the article (well to my ears anyway!).

If you want to study the published proceedings from The Royal Society, referred to by Jason Daley in the second paragraph, then the paper is here:

Dog-directed speech: why do we use it and do dogs pay attention to it?

Tobey Ben-Aderet, Mario Gallego-Abenza, David Reby, Nicolas Mathevon
Only one way to finish today’s post!

P.S. Don’t run the video in front of a roomful of dogs! (As we did last night!)

Two sides of the pilot’s life!

The life of the commercial pilot; that is.

I have a good understanding of the commercial pilot’s world, both inside and outside of my family. For many years as an active private pilot I held a British Instrument Rating (IR) that allowed me to fly in the commercial airways. Studying for the IR required a good appreciation of the safety culture that was at the root of commercial flying especially surrounding one’s departure and arrival airports.

So when I read a recent item from the Smithsonian Magazine proposing that airline pilots were more depressed than the average American my first reaction was one of disbelief. I forwarded the link to Bob D., an experienced British airline Captain and a good friend for years. Here is that article:

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Think Your Job Is Depressing? Try Being an Airline Pilot

New study suggests pilots are more depressed than the average American

4322816521_2e87d62705_o-jpeg__800x600_q85_cropBy Erin Blakemore
smithsonian.com  December 16, 2016

Being a pilot for a commercial airline has its perks—travel to exotic places, a cool uniform and those breathtaking views of the sky. But that job can come with a side of something much more sobering: depression. As Melissa Healy reports for The Los Angeles Times, the mental health of airline pilots is coming into sharp focus with the revelation that nearly 13 percent of them could be depressed.

A new study of the mental health of commercial airline pilots, recently published in the Journal of Environmental Health, suggests that depression is a major problem for pilots. The first to document mental health for this particular field, the study relied on a 2015 web survey of international pilots that contained a range of questions about their condition over the prior two weeks. Questions included whether they felt like failures, had trouble falling or staying asleep, or felt they were better off dead. (Those questions are part of a depression screening tool called the PHQ-9.) Other questions involved pilots’ flight habits, their use of sleep aids and alcohol, and whether they have been sexually or verbally harassed on the job.

Of the 1,848 pilots who responded to the depression screening portions of the questionnaire, 12.6 percent met the threshold for depression. In addition, 4.1 percent of those respondents reported having suicidal thoughts at some point during the two weeks before taking the survey. The researchers found that pilots who were depressed were also more likely to take sleep aids and report verbal or sexual harassment.

Airline pilot organizations and occupational safety experts assure Healy that airline travel is still safe. But the study continues a conversation about pilot psychology that has been in full swing since a German pilot committed suicide by crashing his plane in 2015—an incident that inspired the current study.

Since then, calls for better statistics on pilot suicide have grown louder. As Carl Bialik notes for FiveThirtyEight, those statistics do exist—and do suggest that the number of actual suicides among pilots are very small. However, limitations in data, the possibility of underreporting, and infrequent data collection all challenge a complete understanding of that facet of pilots’ mental health.

This latest mental health study has its own limitations, including the fact that it relies on self-reporting and a relatively small sample size compared to total pilot numbers worldwide (in the U.S. alone, there are over 70,000 commercial airline pilots). The cause of the reported depression also remains unclear.

But if the depression rate for commercial airline pilots really is nearly 13 percent, it’s almost double the national rate of about seven percent. Though future work is necessary to confirm these results, this study provides an initial glimpse into the health of the people who make the nation’s airlines tick and emphasizes the importance of figuring out ways to improve their mental health and quality of life.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/airline-pilots-are-really-depressed-180961475/#QojUDlEzhHEsxww4.99
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Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

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As the article points out the study contains a number of flaws that really reduce it from an erudite analysis to an eye-catching news item. (Better than reading about politics; that’s for sure!)

I know these are busy times for Captain Bob even without it being Christmas. But if Bob finds time to comment on this study then I will publish it later on.

However, Bob did find a moment to forward me copies of some of the many placards that are a necessary part of the flight deck.

pilot1oooo

pilot2oooo

pilot3Fly safely all you good pilots out there!

What a Moon!

This is a night to be outside! (And that includes you, Susan L.)

It has been receiving quite a lot of publicity in recent days. I’m speaking of the “Supermoon”.

Or in the opening words of a recent Smithsonian Magazine article:

The Biggest Supermoon in 68 Years Will Leave You “Moonstruck”

It hasn’t been this close since 1948 and won’t be again for the next 18 years

(Adrian Scottow via Flickr)
(Adrian Scottow via Flickr)

In terms of when this is happening then I will draw on Mother Nature Network:

According to NASA, the full moon that rises on Nov. 13 will be the closest one to Earth since 1948. If viewing conditions are clear, the moon will not only appear 30 percent brighter, but also 14 percent larger. While the nighttime viewing is supposed to be spectacular, the true closest approach of the supermoon will take place on the morning of Nov. 14 at 8:52 a.m. EST.

Just how special is this super supermoon? Humanity won’t get another show like this one until Nov. 25, 2034.

Or as the EarthSky blogsite puts it:

The moon turns precisely full on November 14, 2016 at 1352 UTC. This full moon instant will happen in the morning hours before sunrise November 14 in western North America and on many Pacific islands, east of the International Date Line.

For those of us on Pacific time that equates to 0852 PST.

So the balance of today’s post will comprise the republication, with permission, of a recent essay on The Conversation blogsite.

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Supermoons are big and bright, but not as rare as the hype would suggest.

November 8, 2016

By

Senior Lecturer and Associate Department Head for Undergraduate Programs in Astronomy & Astrophysics, Pennsylvania State University.

As an observational astronomer who teaches students about the behavior of the moon, I’m thankful for anything that inspires people to go out and look at the sky. For me it’s second nature to pay attention to the moon; when my son was born, I would take him out at night to observe with me, and one of his very first words was “moon.”

But I have mixed feelings about what’s being billed as the upcoming “super-supermoon.” Many astronomers do not like using the term because reports overhype the factors that make certain full moons unusual. Most of what you’ve likely read has probably misled you about what you can expect to see on Nov. 14 and just how rare this event is. Beautiful, yes. Worth looking up for, definitely. Once in a lifetime… that’s a bit overblown.

he moon’s phases as it revolves around the Earth. Orion 8, CC BY-SA
The moon’s phases as it revolves around the Earth. Orion 8, CC BY-SA

The moon’s cyclical phases

Just about everyone is familiar with the moon’s changing appearance as it goes through its phases from crescent, to half-illuminated (first quarter), to gibbous, to full, and then back through gibbous, to half-illuminated (third quarter), to crescent, to new.

This pattern occurs because the moon orbits the Earth. When the moon is between the Earth and sun, it’s a new moon, and you don’t see it that day. When the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun we get a full moon as the sun’s light illuminates almost its entire face. The complete sequence of phases takes about the same amount of time as it does for the moon to orbit the Earth once – just about a month.

As the moon makes its monthly trip around our planet, it travels on an elliptical, not circular, path. Every object in the solar system orbits like this, including the Earth around the sun; over the course of the year, the Earth is sometimes closer to the sun and sometimes more distant. Same for the moon – sometimes it’s closer to us and sometimes farther away.

The changes are proportionally not large; at “perigee” (the closest it gets to the Earth) the moon’s approximately 10 percent closer to the Earth than at “apogee” (most distant point on its orbit). Over the year, the moon’s distance from Earth varies from around 222,000 to 253,000 miles.

 The moon’s orbit is elliptical and changes over time. Rfassbind
The moon’s orbit is elliptical and changes over time. Rfassbind

The time it takes the moon to go from perigee to perigee (about 27.3 days) is shorter than the time it takes to go through a complete set of phases (about 29.5 days). Because these timescales are different, the phase at which perigee occurs varies. Sometimes perigee occurs when the moon is full, but it is just as likely for perigee to occur when the moon is in the first quarter phase, or any other. Whichever phase the moon is in when it’s at perigee will be the one that looks largest to us here on Earth for that month.

wo full moons as seen from Earth: at perigee on the left, at apogee on the right. Catalin Paduraru
Two full moons as seen from Earth: at perigee on the left, at apogee on the right. Catalin Paduraru

At perigee, the moon can appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than an apogee full moon. But this is complicated by the fact that our eyes play tricks on us and convince us the moon looks larger when it is near the horizon than when it is higher in the sky. Every full moon will look big and bright whether it happens at perigee or apogee.

So what’s a supermoon?

The first time I heard the phrase “supermoon” was in 2011, and someone had to explain the suddenly in vogue term to me. People were using it to describe the full moon that happened to occur within an hour of perigee in March of that year. The moon’s perigee distance also varies a bit, and March 2011 was the moon’s closest perigee of that year.

 A 2013 supermoon as seen from Ireland. John Finn, CC BY-NC-ND
A 2013 supermoon as seen from Ireland. John Finn, CC BY-NC-ND

This was a somewhat rare event – a full moon occurring not just at perigee, but at the closest perigee of the year. But many people got the impression that this was an exceedingly unusual event, and rushed to see and capture images of this supposedly ultra-rare moon. Depending on how closely you require the full moon to occur to perigee in order to call it a supermoon, though, these events happen at least roughly once a year, and often more frequently.

Which brings us to this month’s much ballyhooed “super-supermoon.” News stories are hyping the upcoming full moon as a once-in-a-lifetime viewing opportunity. It’s true that the Nov. 14 full moon is the closest since 1948, and the next time the full moon will be closer is in 2034.

But this month’s full moon is only 0.02 percent closer – a mere 41 miles! – than the March 2011 supermoon. These tiny distances make no noticeable difference in the moon’s appearance.

 Get out there and enjoy this supermoon! AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
Get out there and enjoy this supermoon! AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Please do go out and observe the November full moon. If you are good with photography, try to document that the moon does appear larger than the other months this year. Just be aware you’ll have other virtually equivalent opportunities to do so pretty much every year for the rest of your life. So don’t worry if you miss it. You can catch the supermoon next time around.

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Fingers crossed our local weather will enable Jean and me to view this moon and I will try and photograph it.

If any readers also get to see this moon do let us know your thoughts and feelings.

All change at 10 Downing Street!

Well, perhaps not completely all change!

There will be few who can’t have heard of the enormous changes going on in my old country, with Teresa May now Britain’s second female Prime Minister. Talk about out with the old and in with the new!

But as this lovely story recently published over on the Smithsonian Magazine website illustrates, it’s not total change.

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10 Downing Street’s “Chief Mouser” Is Keeping His Job Despite Brexit

Larry the Cat will outlast David Cameron at the Prime Minister’s residence
Larry, Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office (Her Majesty's Government)
Larry, Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office (Her Majesty’s Government)
By Danny Lewis  smithsonian.com
July 14, 2016

In the weeks since British citizens voted to leave the European Union in a national referendum, the government of the United Kingdom has seen its share of political turmoil. Following the results of the vote, then-Prime Minister and “Remain” supporter David Cameron announced that he would be stepping down, and has now been replaced by his successor, Theresa May. But while Cameron has officially left the Prime Minister’s residence and offices at 10 Downing Street in London, at least one of his appointees will remain in May’s service: a brown and white tabby cat named Larry.

“It’s a civil servant’s cat and does not belong to the Camerons—he will be staying,” a government official tells the BBC.

Larry first came to 10 Downing Street in 2011, when Cameron adopted him from a rescue home in hopes that the feline would help handle a mouse infestation plaguing the Prime Minister’s residence. As the first cat to hold the title of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, Larry has become a familiar face in and around the building over the years.

“Larry spends his days greeting guests to the house, inspecting security defenses and testing antique furniture for napping quality,” an official government website detailing the history of 10 Downing Street writes. “His day-to-day responsibilities also include contemplating a solution to the mouse occupancy of the house. Larry says this is still ‘in tactical planning stage.’”

However, despite being touted as a “good ratter” with “a high chase-drive and hunting instinct,” some reports suggest that Larry is not as good at his job as official statements might lead one to believe. Indeed, Larry has faced harsh scrutiny for slacking on the job, as his love of long naps often gets in the way of his hunting duties, Jack Goodman reports for Atlas Obscura. In one incident, Cameron reportedly was forced to throw a silver fork at a mouse to shoo it away during a meeting with other government officials, even after Larry was brought on board to handle the problem. However, despite his lack of progress on the mouse problem, Larry has managed to continue to retain his position.

While Larry may be the first cat to hold this particular title, he isn’t the first cat to make his home at 10 Downing Street. During the 1920s, Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald brought along his cat, Rufus of England, and, in the 1930s and ’40s, the so-called “Munich Mouser” ran rampant throughout the residence, the BBC reports. In the 1970s, a cat named Wilberforce took up guard. Upon retirement, he was replaced by a stray who wandered into the offices during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership (he was called Humphrey). The last cat before Larry to hold court at 10 Downing Street was Sybil, who belonged to former Chancellor Alastair Darling. However, she reportedly did not care for city life, and later retired with Darling to his home in the Scottish countryside.

Whatever other effects the decision to leave the European Union will have on the United Kingdom’s government in the coming weeks, Larry’s position as “top cat,” at least, remains assured.

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 Well done, Larry!

Labelling and form over substance.

A providential sequel to yesterday’s post.

It was after 3pm yesterday when I turned on my computer and wondered what today’s post was going to be; I wasn’t feeling especially creative!

But sitting in my ‘in-box’ was a link to the latest newsletter from The Smithsonian and within that newsletter was a perfect sequel to yesterday’s post What’s In A Name?

I’ll go straight to that article. (Apologies if you notice that there is a fair degree of overlap between the two articles.)

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Call a Dog a Pit Bull and He May Have Trouble Finding a Home

Dogs labeled as pit bulls at shelters may wait three times longer to be adopted—even when they aren’t actually pit bulls

An adorable shelter dog shouldn’t have a difficult time finding a home—but it might if it comes with the label “pit bull.” (LeticiaRose / iStock)
An adorable shelter dog shouldn’t have a difficult time finding a home—but it might if it comes with the label “pit bull.” (LeticiaRose / iStock)

By Rachel Nuwer, March 23, 2016

Regardless of a canine’s actual breed, simply labeling a dog a “pit bull” can condemn it to a significantly longer stay in a shelter and make it less attractive to potential adopters, concludes a new study in PLOS One.

Pit bulls are often stereotyped as aggressive and dangerous toward humans, though there is little evidence that those characteristics are inherent to the breed. The breed is popular among the dog fighting crowd, however, which contributes to its reputation for aggressiveness. To complicate matters, when attacks do occur, dogs may be labeled as pit bulls even when they are not. Indeed, in the United States, “pit bull” often serves as a catchall for a handful of breeds ranging from English bulldogs to American Staffordshire terriers; one person’s pit bull is another’s American bulldog mix.

This reputation follows the canines when they land in shelters. When potential adopters look at available dogs, they “don’t rate pit bulls any differently than look-alike dogs,” says the study’s lead author, Lisa Gunter, a graduate student in psychology at Arizona State University. “It’s only when we start attaching labels that people begin to perceive them more negatively.”

Most shelter dogs are of unknown origin, so employees often have to guess at an animal’s breed. Over a 10-year career working in shelters, Gunter noticed that she and her co-workers frequently arrived at different conclusions about a dog’s breed. And genetic studies have found significant discrepancies between descriptions of shelter dogs and their actual breed. One study found, for example, that half of the dogs that had been labeled as pit bulls at four Florida shelters had no pit bull ancestry in their DNA.

Gunter and her colleagues undertook a series of studies to find out how those potentially flawed labels might impact an animal’s chance of finding a home. They started by showing college students in California and users of the website Reddit photos of three dogs—a Labrador retriever, a pit bull-like dog and a border collie—without attached breed labels and asked questions about each, such as whether the dog looked smart or if the person would feel comfortable approaching it. The team found that participants ranked the pit bull-type dog as lowest on intelligence, friendliness, approachability and adoptability, and highest on aggressiveness and difficulty to train. When the pit bull appeared in a photo with an elderly woman or a child, however, it was rated more favorably.

Next, the researchers asked potential adopters at an Arizona shelter to rank dogs that appeared in photos and short videos on the animals’ approachability, intelligence, aggressiveness, friendliness, difficulty to train and adoptability. These scores were then summed to create an “attractiveness” composite for each pooch. To get around possible biases, such as apartment rules about animal sizes or bans on certain breeds, the team used phrases such as, “If circumstances allowed, I would consider adopting this dog,” to assess willingness to take a canine home.

These two dogs may look similar, but the pit bull label could mean that the one on the left may wait a lot longer to find a home. (Arizona Animal Welfare League)
These two dogs may look similar, but the pit bull label could mean that the one on the left may wait a lot longer to find a home. (Arizona Animal Welfare League)

When the dogs were not labeled as any particular breed, participants ranked pit bulls and look-alikes (dogs that were the same size and color as the pit bulls) as equally attractive. Potential adopters even ranked the pit bulls in video recordings as more attractive than the non-pit bull matches. When the researchers introduced breed labels, however, that trend reversed, with participants ranking the same dog as significantly less attractive than similar dogs without the label.

The researchers also found that pit bulls at that shelter waited over three times as long to find a home as their matched counterparts.

Finally, the team analyzed a set of data from an animal shelter in Florida that recently removed breed descriptions altogether. When freed from the loaded label, pit bull-like dogs were much more likely to find a home. Adoptions of these dogs increased by more than 70 percent, compared with the prior year, and the shelter’s euthanasia rate for the same group dropped by 12 percent, probably because more of them were finding homes.

Taken together, these results “are very convincing that breed labels negatively impact any dog that is labeled as ‘pit bull,’” says Erica Feuerbacher, who studies dogs at Carroll College in Montana and was not involved in the study. “Furthermore, we know from other studies that humans are quite bad at correctly labeling breeds, so many dogs could be erroneously labeled pit bull—even though they are not—and by that label they become less adoptable.”

Eliminating breed labels, which people seem to be using as poor proxies for stereotyped traits, may be the key to banishing a significant amount of dog discrimination—and getting more dogs into homes, Feuerbacher and the other researchers argue. There is also a need to devise better means of measuring dogs’ true personalities, including their potential for aggression, and of ensuring those assessments are valid not just in the shelter environment but also in homes, Gunter notes.

“We want to drive the adoption conversation toward evaluating whether an individual dog, regardless of the breed, is a suitable candidate for adoption,” she says. “Then we can match-make between the personality of the dog and that of the person, instead of just relying on labels.”

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You can see why it so perfectly followed on from yesterday!

Not just my post but yesterday’s comments. Such as this from Tony:

Another example of form over substance. When will we learn?

So I know you will all cheer Erica Feuerbacher who is quoted towards the end of that Smithsonian essay and I will close with her words, in part: “We want to drive the adoption conversation toward evaluating whether an individual dog, regardless of the breed, is a suitable candidate for adoption. Then we can match-make between the personality of the dog and that of the person, instead of just relying on labels.

Oh, and a very Happy April Fool’s Day!