Tag: The Smithsonian

The science of dog learning.

A very interesting article in The Smithsonian Magazine.

There are countless breeds of dogs and they represent thousands of years of breeding.

But recent work in determining the genetic background behind the many different features of dogs has revealed so much.

The Smithsonian Magazine published an article nearly a month ago and hopefully it is alright to share it with you.

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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

 

 

Three dogs sit at attention ( MediaProduction

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.

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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:

Gitanjali Gnanadesikan
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.

Dogs’ homing instincts!

This article in The Smithsonian is well worth reading.

I think that strictly speaking I should not be republishing articles from The Smithsonian and if I am instructed to take the post down then all you will read is this introduction.

But hopefully they will look kindly towards me.

For there was an article recently that spoke about dogs and their ability to find their way across often strange land. Very interesting!

Here it is!

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Keeping you current

How Do Dogs Find Their Way Home? They Might Sense Earth’s Magnetic Field

Our canine companions aren’t the only animals that may be capable of magnetoreception
A terrier fitted with GPS remote tracking device and camera (Kateřina Benediktová / Czech University of Life Sciences

By Courtney Sexton

SMITHSONIANMAG.COM
July 27, 2020, JULY 27, 2020

Last week, Cleo the four-year-old yellow Labrador retriever showed up on the doorstep of the home her family moved away from two years ago, reports Caitlin O’Kane for CBS News. As it turns out, Cleo traveled nearly 60 miles from her current home in Kansas to her old one in Missouri. Cleo is just one of many dogs who have made headlines for their homing instincts; in 1924, for example, a collie known as “Bobbie the Wonder Dog” traveled 2,800 miles in the dead of winter to be reunited with his people.

Now, scientists suggest these incredible feats of navigation are possible in part due to Earth’s geomagnetic field, according to a new study published in the journal eLife.

Researchers led by biologists Kateřina Benediktová and Hynek Burda of the Czech University of Life Sciences Department of Game Management and Wildlife Biology outfitted 27 hunting dogs representing 10 different breeds with GPS collars and action cameras, and tracked them in more than 600 excursions over the course of three years, Michael Thomsen reports for Daily Mail. The dogs were driven to a location, led on-leash into a forested area, and then released to run where they pleased. The team only focused on dogs that ventured at least 200 meters away from their owners.

But the researchers were more curious about the dogs’ return journeys than their destinations. When called back to their owners, the dogs used two different methods for finding their way back from an average of 1.1 kilometers (about .7 miles) away. About 60 percent of the dogs used their noses to follow their outbound route in reverse, a strategy known as “tracking,” while the other 30 percent opted to use a new route, found through a process called “scouting.”
According to the study authors, both tactics have merits and drawbacks, and that’s why dogs probably alternate between the two depending on the situation.

“While tracking may be safe, it is lengthy,” the authors write in the study. “Scouting enables taking shortcuts and might be faster but requires navigation capability and, because of possible errors, is risky.”
Data from the scouting dogs revealed that their navigation capability is related to a magnetic connection (Kateřina Benediktová / Czech University of Life Sciences)

Data from the scouting dogs revealed that their navigation capability is related to a magnetic connection. All of the dogs who did not follow their outbound path began their return with a short “compass run,” a quick scan of about 20 meters along the Earth’s north-south geomagnetic axis, reports the Miami Herald’s Mitchell Willetts. Because they don’t have any familiar visual landmarks to use, and dense vegetation at the study sites made “visual piloting unreliable,” the compass run helps the dogs recalibrate their own position to better estimate their “homing” direction.

Whether the dogs are aware that they are tapping into the Earth’s magnetic field is unclear. Many dogs also poop along a north-south axis, and they certainly are not the only animals to use it as a tool. Chinook salmon have magnetoreceptors in their skin that help guide their epic journeys; foxes use magnetism to hone in on underground prey; and, sea turtles use it to find their beachside birthplaces.

Catherine Lohmann, a biologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who studies magnetoreception and navigation in such turtles tells Erik Stokstad at Science that the finding of the compass run, however, is a first in dogs. This newfound ability means that they can likely remember the direction they had been pointing when they started, and then use the magnetic compass to find the most efficient way home.

To learn more about how magneto-location works for the dogs, the study authors will begin a new experiment placing magnets on the dogs’ collars to find out if this disrupts their navigational skills.

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Courtney Sexton, a writer and researcher based in Washington, DC, studies human-animal interactions. She is a 2020 AAAS Mass Media Fellow and the co-founder and director of The Inner Loop, a nonprofit organization for writers.

 

This is, as I mentioned earlier, a most interesting article. I can’t wait to read more in The Smithsonian. We actually subscribe to the paper version of the magazine. So fingers crossed that in time there will be a further report from Catherine Lohmann.

That nose! (Of the dogs.)

It is the most amazing aspect of the dog.

I have written previously about the dog’s nose and their ability to smell.

Dogs have millions of smell receptors that can detect countless smells, including the smells of changes going on inside our bodies. (Photo: RedTC/Shutterstock)

But there’s more to their nose that just the millions of smell receptors.

This article in The Smithsonian explains.

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Dogs’ Cool, Wet Noses May Be Able to Detect Heat

A new study has found that dogs can pick out objects that are warmer than ambient temperature

By Brigit Katz ,    smithsonianmag.com, March 4th, 2020

A dog’s cold nose could be used for heat seeking. (Photo by Angelika Warmuth/picture alliance via Getty Images)

If you’ve ever given a dog a boop on the snout, you may have noticed that its rhinarium—the furless patch of skin that surrounds the nostrils—is wet and cool. A new study published in Scientific Reports has found that these chilly rhinaria make dogs sensitive to radiating heat, which in turn might help them track down warm-blooded prey.

Dog noses are chock full of nerve endings—they have more than 100 million sensory receptor sites in their nasal cavities, compared to humans’ six million—making them extraordinarily keen sniffers. It thus seemed likely, according to the study authors, that dogs’ rhinaria serve some sort of sensory function.

Low tissue temperature seems to compromise sensory sensitivity in animals with one notable exception: crotaline snakes, also known as pit vipers, which seem to strike more accurately at warm-blooded prey when their heat-sensitive pit organs—located between each eye and nostril—are colder. Cool snakes are also more sensitive to thermal radiation. Perhaps, the researchers theorized, pooches deploy their noses for heat detection, too.

To test the theory, the researchers trained three pet dogs to choose the warmer of two panels. One, according to Gizmodo’s George Dvorsky, was heated to between 51 and 58 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the ambient temperature, similar to the body temperature of a fur-covered mammal. The other, which served as the control, had a “neutral” temperature close to that of the ambient environment. After the training, the dogs were put to the test in a double-blind experiment; neither they nor the people carrying out the trial knew from the get-go which object was warmer, since nothing visually distinguished them.

Still, all three dogs were able to home in on the warmer object, suggesting that they can detect even weak thermal radiation. “[T]he temperature of the mammalian bodies that emit [thermal radiation is not very high, unlike the Sun for instance,” first study author Anna Bálint, a biologist at Lund University in Sweden, tells Gizmodo. To pick up on the heat radiating from warm-blooded prey, dogs would need “very sensitive sensors.”

The nose seemed like the most likely candidate leading the dogs in the right direction. All other parts of a dog’s body are covered in insulating fur, with the exception of the eyes, which “are not suitable for receiving infrared radiation, because the sensitive structures are hidden behind a thick layer of tissue,” study co-author Ronald Kröger, also a Lund University biologist, tells Gizmodo. But to test their theory once again, the researchers conducted functional MRI scans of the brains of 13 pet dogs. The left somatosensory cortex in dogs’ brains—which “delivers input from the nose,” according to Virginia Morell of Science—was more responsive to objects emitting weak thermal radiation than neutral objects.

The researchers don’t know precisely how dog rhinaria convert energy into a nervous signal, and it’s not clear whether pups’ heat-detecting abilities are particularly effective if their hypothetical prey is far away. The test objects were placed around five feet from the dogs; Gary Settles, a mechanical engineer at Pennsylvania State University who was not involved in the study, tells Science that he doubts “dog rhinarium can distinguish patterns of hot and cold objects at a distance.”

But for shorter distances, at least, being able to sense the heat emanating from prey could help canines hunt even if their sight, smell or hearing is obscured. That may not matter much to domestic dogs, but their closest wild relative, the grey wolf, preys on large, warm-blooded animals. “[T]he ability to detect the radiation from warm bodies would be advantageous for such predators,” the authors note in the study. And perhaps most importantly, the study offers yet another reason as to why your dog is great: Its nose knows more than you might think.

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The more that we understand our favourite pooch, the more that we are in awe of them. Their noses are incredible. To be honest, it is very difficult to comprehend just what this primary sense of dogs means to a dog.

I will take the closing sentence of the article to close my own thoughts:

To be honest, it is very difficult to comprehend just what this primary sense of dogs means to a dog.

Indeed!

Dogs observations of us humans

A widely-reported study shows the depth to which dogs understand us.

I have seen this reported both in The Smithsonian and Mother Nature News.

I have included both!

I’ll comment at the end of the articles.

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Stray Dogs May Understand Human Signals, Too

By Brigit Katz

Researchers in India studied whether 160 stray dogs would react to commands like gesturing toward a bowl. This image, taken in 2012, shows street dogs surrounding an Indian tea vendor in Allahabad. (AP Photo / Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Dogs are famously good at interpreting human signals, whether communicated verbally or through gestures. But much of what we know about our furry friends’ comprehension of social cues focuses on pet dogs, which share close relationships with their owners and are trained to follow commands. Now, a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, suggests that stray dogs can also understand human gestures, indicating that this ability might be innate.
The new research took place on the streets of several regions in India, which is home to some 30 million stray dogs. Coexistence between canines and humans there is not always peaceful; people have been known to attack street dogs, and vice versa. Around 36 percent of the world’s annual rabies deaths occur in India, most of them children who came into contact with infected dogs.

To better manage the country’s street dogs, it’s essential to gain further knowledge of their behavior, Anindita Bhadra, study co-author and animal behaviorist at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata, tells Liz Langley of National Geographic. So she and her colleagues set out to discover whether strays, which have never undergone specific training, are able to understand humans in a similar way to their pet counterparts.

The researchers took to the streets equipped with two bowls; one contained chicken and the other was empty but had been rubbed with raw chicken, transferring the food’s scent. The bowls were covered with pieces of cardboard and handed to an experimenter who did not know which one contained the snack. This researcher would approach a stray dog, place the bowls on the ground and point at one of them, sometimes momentarily, sometimes repeatedly.

In total, the researchers studied 160 adult strays. Around half of them refused to get close to either bowl, perhaps because they had negative interactions with humans in the past, the researchers speculate. But of the dogs that did approach the bowls, approximately 80 percent went to the one to which the experimenter had pointed. Whether the researcher had pointed to the bowl briefly or repeatedly did not seem to matter. This response, according to the study authors, suggests that untrained stray dogs are “capable of following complex pointing cues from humans.”

Dogs share an intertwined evolutionary history with humans, with domesticated pooches emerging at least 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, though some experts have argued for an even earlier date. This close contact has prompted dogs to develop a number of skills that allow them to communicate with people, including interpreting human emotion. Still, Bhadra says, the researchers found it “quite amazing” that stray dogs without a history of close human interaction were able to “follow a gesture as abstract as momentary pointing.”

“This means that they closely observe the human, whom they are meeting for the first time, and they use their understanding of humans to make a decision,” Bhadra adds. “This shows their intelligence and adaptability.”

Because some dogs seemed anxious and were wary of approaching the researchers, it’s not clear how a dog’s personality—and past experiences—might affect its ability to interpret human signals. But this ability does not appear to be entirely dependent on training, the study authors say, which in turn should inform efforts to manage stray dogs.

“They are quite capable of understanding our body language and we need to give them their space,” Bhadra says. “A little empathy and respect for another species can reduce a lot of conflict.”

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Mother Nature News had a second picture in their broadly-similar article. Indeed, I’m going to republish this article as well. For although they are of the same story they offer a slightly different account.

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Even stray dogs understand human cues

A new study shows these feral canines are paying close attention.

By Starre Vartan   January 21, 2020

Even untrained dogs can follow simple communications. (Photo: Abir Bhattacharya/Shutterstock)

Dogs were likely the first animals that human beings domesticated — scientific guesses vary as to whether that was 10,000 years ago in Europe or 30,000 years ago in Asia (or, as one theory goes, humans tamed grey wolves two separate times). Regardless, they have been our companions for much of human history, and all of modern history. We have evolved together.

And that longstanding connection shows up in feral dogs.

Behavioral biologist Dr. Anindita Bhadra of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Kolkata, India, revealed this by studying stray dogs in several Indian cities. In the experiment, Bhadra and her colleagues would find a solo stray dog and put two covered bowls on the ground nearby. They they’d simply point to one of the bowls; some did this just once, others did it a few times.

The researchers, who published their work in Frontiers in Psychology, recorded the dogs’ reactions. Half the dogs seemed nervous, and didn’t look at or come close to either bowl. But the other half — noted as less anxious dogs by the researchers — approached the bowls. Of those friendlier dogs, about 80% went to the bowl the researcher pointed at. As long as the dogs weren’t too scared of the people, they were easily able to interpret what the pointing meant.

“We thought it was quite amazing that the dogs could follow a gesture as abstract as momentary pointing,” Bhadra said in a news release. “This means that they closely observe the human, whom they are meeting for the first time, and they use their understanding of humans to make a decision. This shows their intelligence and adaptability.”

Wolf puppies surprised researchers with their responses. (Photo: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock)

In another study, three out of 13 untrained 8-week-old wolf puppies spontaneously retrieved a ball for a person who threw it, as MNN’s Mary Jo DiLonardo explains. It was a small study, and a low percentage of retrieving puppies, but it was an unexpected result as these weren’t domesticated dogs. “It was so unexpected, and I immediately knew that this meant that if variation in human-directed play behavior exists in wolves, this behavior could have been a potential target for early selective pressures exerted during dog domestication,” Christina Hansen Wheat, a biologist at Stockholm University, said.

Her observations show that playing with people may be a very old trait for wolves, that could reflect how our human ancestors first got to know them. This playful behavior may have sparked humans’ interest in domestication. If a dog could fetch a stick or other thrown object, they could be quite useful to hunting humans.

Of course, their adorable, big puppy-dog eyes and floppy ears (both traits that have become accentuated over time as dogs evolved) are among the reason we are still drawn to dogs today. (It also helps that they’re great listeners.)

But long before that happened, dogs served an important purpose — assisting people in locating and retrieving prey, and serving as eyes and ears for an intruder. Simple tasks like showing they can follow directions or fetch an object may have moved prehistoric dogs from outside the fire circle to within it, which is why understanding these behaviors are so important.

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If we go back into the mists of time then prehistoric wolves (or dogs) learnt to bond with early humans because it served both their interests to so do. Humans became much more adept at hunting and wolves obviously became the benefactors of food!

Now dogs are so well bonded to human gestures that even non-domesticated dogs understand the signals that we humans put out. I say ‘non-domesticated’ but in a real sense all dogs are domesticated. It would be more accurate to say that these are dogs who do not have a home with humans.

The oldest human-animal relationship by far!

Can dogs count?

The answer may surprise you!

Dogs use a part of their brain for processing numbers. But more than that, dogs use a similar brain region to process numbers as we humans do.

I found that fascinating.

This was one the results of reading a very interesting article published by The Smithsonian magazine earlier on in December.

Let me share it with you.

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Dogs’ Brains Naturally Process Numbers, Just Like Ours

Scientists stuck 11 dogs in fMRI scanners to see if their brains had a knack for quantity

How many sheep? (Arbutus Photography / flickr)

Katherine J. Wu,   smithsonianmag.com
Dec. 19, 2019,

Sit. Stay. Fetch. Count?

Sort of. A team of scientists has found that dogs naturally process numbers in a similar brain region as humans, reports Virginia Morell for Science. While that doesn’t mean mutts can do math, it seems they have an innate sense of quantity, and may take notice when you put fewer treats in their bowl, according to a study published this week in Biology Letters.

Importantly, while other research has delved into similar stunts that scientists coaxed out of canines by rewarding them with treats, the new study suggests a knack for numbers is present in even untrained dogs—and could have deep evolutionary roots. This supports the idea that the ways in which animals process quantity in their brains may be “ancient and widespread among species,” Michael Beran, a psychologist at Georgia State University who wasn’t involved in the research, tells Morell.

To test pooches’ numerical prowess, a team led by Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University, scanned the brains of 11 dogs of different breeds as they gazed at screens serially flashing different numbers of variably-sized dots. As the images flipped rapidly past, the researchers looked for activity in a region of the canine brain called the parietotemporal cortex, analogous to humans’ parietal cortex, which is known to help people rapidly process numbers. In humans, this region lights up on a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner when numbers start to vary—a sign that cells are working hard to puzzle through the difference.

Something similar seems to apply to canines, the team found. When dogs hopped into the scanner, most of their parietotemporal cortices showed more activity when the numbers of dots flashed onto the screen changed (for instance, three small dots followed by ten big dots) than when they stayed the same (four small dots followed by four large dots).

The behavior wasn’t universal: 3 out of the researchers’ 11 test subjects failed to discern the difference. But it’s not surprising that the rest did, Krista Macpherson, a canine cognition researcher at Western University in Canada who wasn’t involved in the study, tells Morell.

Of course, approximating quantities of dots isn’t the same as solving complex mathematical equations, as our brains are equipped to do. But both behaviors stem from an inherent sense for numbers—something that appears to span the 80-million-year evolutionary gap between dogs and humans, the findings suggest.

Understanding how that basic ability might evolve into “higher” mathematical skills is a clear next step, study author Lauren Aulet, a psychologist at Emory University, says in a statement. Until then, we humans can count on the fact that we have plenty in common with our canine companions.

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An inherent sense for numbers. Wow!

This is yet another aspect of the relationship we have with our pooches that is deeper and closer than I imagined, and I’m sure I don’t only speak for myself.

The early beginnings.

Science has maybe found a clue to the ancestor of the dog and the wolf.

For an animal that means so much to us humans, the origins of the dog are still uncertain. Indeed, as this interesting article shows, the origins of the wolf are uncertain.

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Was This 18,000-Year-Old Puppy Frozen in Siberian Permafrost the Ancestor of Wolves, Dogs or Both?

DNA tests on the well-preserved remains can’t determine whether the little canine was wild or domestic

(Sergey Fedorov/NEFU)

By Jason Daley, smithsonianmag.com
Dec. 3, 2019, 10 a.m.”>December 3, 2019

Meet Dogor, an 18,000-year-old pup unearthed in Siberian permafrost whose name means “friend” in the Yakut language. The remains of the prehistoric pup are puzzling researchers because genetic testing shows it’s not a wolf or a dog, meaning it could be an elusive ancestor of both.

Locals found the remains in the summer of 2018 in a frozen lump of ground near the Indigirka River, according to the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk. Parts of the animal are incredibly well-preserved, including its head, nose, whiskers, eyelashes and mouth, revealing that it still had its milk teeth when it died. Researchers suggest the animal was just two months old when it passed, though they do not know the cause of death.

The pup is so well-preserved that researchers at the Centre for Palaeogenetics in Sweden were able to sequence the animal’s DNA using a piece of rib bone. The results found that Dogor was male, but even after two rounds of analysis the team could not determine whether he was a dog or a wolf.

“It’s normally relatively easy to tell the difference between the two,” David Stanton, a Centre for Palaeogenetics research fellow, tells Amy Woodyatt at CNN. “We have a lot of data from it already, and with that amount of data, you’d expect to tell if it was one or the other. The fact that we can’t might suggest that it’s from a population that was ancestral to both—to dogs and wolves.”

The find is exciting, regardless of whether Dogor turns out to be a common canine ancestor, an early dog, or an early wolf. Hannah Knowles at The Washington Post reports that Dogor comes from an interesting time in canine evolution, when wolf species were dying out and early dogs were beginning to emerge.

“As you go back in time, as you get closer to the point that dogs and wolves converge, [it becomes] harder to tell between the two,” Stanton tells Knowles.

(Sergey Fedorov/NEFU)

The history of just how and when dogs split from wolves is unresolved. There’s a general agreement among scientists that modern gray wolves and dogs split from a common ancestor 15,000 to 40,000 years ago, explains Brian Handwerk previously for Smithsonian.com. How dogs became dogs, however, is contested. Some research suggests that dogs were domesticated by humans once, while other studies have found dogs were domesticated multiple times. Exactly where in the world wild canines became man’s best friend is also disputed. The origin of the human-animal bond has been traced to Mongolia, China and Europe.

Scientists disagree about how dogs ended up paired with people, too. Some suspect humans captured wolf pups and actively domesticated them. Others suggest that a strain of “friendly,” less aggressive wolves more or less domesticated themselves by hanging out near humans, gaining access to their leftover food.

Dorgor’s DNA could help unravel these mysteries. The team plans to do a third round of DNA testing that may help definitively place Dogor in the canine family tree, report Daria Litvinova and Roman Kutuko at the Associated Press.

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This is incredibly interesting, don’t you think?

Hopefully I will hear of that third round of DNA testing and, if so, will most definitely share it with you.

More calculating your dog’s age.

Another trip round the buoy!

When I first published the post How old is your dog? I found it a little confusing plus the Input-Output section was screwed up.

So I was pleased when the Smithsonian Smart News published a different version of what is the same news.

Here it is:

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Calculate Your Dog’s Age With This New, Improved Formula

A study of the epigenetic clock in Labradors shows calculating a dog’s age is much more complicated than just multiplying by seven.

The study involved 104 Labrador retrievers between four weeks and 16 years old. (Herwig Kavallar via Wikimedia Commons under Public Domain)

By Jason Daley
smithsonian.com
November 19, 2019

One dog year is not equivalent to seven human years, despite widespread use of the ratio for calculating the age of canine companions. Presumably, the ratio is based on the average lifespan of dogs being 10 years and humans being 70 years, it’s not quite so simple. The formula is not based on any real science and it was debunked by veterinarians years ago.

But geneticists digging into the mysteries of ageing have developed a new calculation to understand how our canine companions’ ages correspond to our own.

(You will probably have to go across to the original article for this to work. PH)

To understand how dogs age, the team looked at a phenomenon called DNA methylation. As mammals get older, their DNA picks up methyl groups that “stick” to their DNA. While these groups don’t change the DNA itself, they attach to the genetic molecule and can turn certain genes on or off, which is an important part of epigenetics, or the way environmental factors cause certain genes to express themselves.

Methlyation occurs at a relatively steady rate as humans age, which allows researchers to estimate a person’s age, a process they’ve dubbed the “epigenetic clock.”

In the new paper on dog years, which has yet to be peer reviewed and is currently posted on the preprint server bioRxiv, a team led by Tina Wang of the University of California, San Diego, compared the epigenetic clocks in people to canines to better understand the genes associated with aging. They picked dogs because most live in the same environments as humans and also receive some degree of medical care, like humans do.

The team looked at methylation rates in 104 Labrador retrievers between the ages of four weeks and 16 years old, reports Michelle Starr at Science Alert. They then compared them to published methylation profiles of 320 humans from age one to 103. (They also compared both to 133 mice methylation profiles.)

It turns out some parts of a dog’s life follows the same pattern as humans, though other longevity milestones don’t link up quite as nicely. For instance, the methylation rate showed a seven-week-old pup corresponds to a 9-month-old human baby, and both species begin to get their first teeth at this time.

But the comparison breaks down after early puppyhood. The dog clock ticks much faster with pups speeding through puberty and reaching sexual maturity within their first year. Then, the dog’s epigenetic clock slows down as the dog ages, and begins to match up with humans again in its later years.

Overall, the average 12-year lifespan of a Labrador lined up with the average worldwide lifespan of humans, which is about 70 years.

While the study complicates the concept of “dog years,” it does show that the animals experience similar methylation processes as humans.

“We already knew that dogs get the same diseases and functional declines of aging that humans do, and this work provides evidence that similar molecular changes are also occurring during aging,” Matt Kaeberlein, a biogerontologist at the University of Washington who was not involved in the study, tells Virginia Morell at Science. “It’s a beautiful demonstration of the conserved features of the epigenetic age clocks shared by dogs and humans.”

The new formula for a dog’s ages based on the study requires a little more math than multiplying by seven. You multiply the natural logarithm of a dog’s age by 16, then add 31 [human_age = 16ln(dog_age) + 31].

According to the formula, a 2-year-old dog is the equivalent of a 42-year-old human, but things slow down after that. A 5-year-old dog is the equivalent of a 56.75 year old human, and a 10-year-old dog is the equivalent of 67.8-year-old person.

Evolutionary biologist Steve Austad of the University of Alabama in Birmingham, who was not involved in the study, tells Morell that he’s not too surprised that the epigenetic clock applies to dogs, too. He says that by studying different dog breeds with different lifespans the researchers may find some interesting results.

This formula is not the last word on dog years, however, especially since it only looked at one breed. Erika Mansourian, writing for the American Kennel Club, reports that the American Veterinary Medical Association says the accurate way to calculate dog years for a medium-sized dog is to assume the first year is equivalent to 15 years and age two adds another nine years. After that, each year of a dog’s life is equivalent to five human years. It doesn’t perfectly line up with the new formula, but both acknowledge that dogs age rapidly in their first years of life.

Whatever the case, dogs’ lives are all too short. That may be why people are excited about a project by the Dog Aging Project, which is currently recruiting 10,000 pets and their owners to participate in a new study that will look at the dogs’ health, gut microbes, diet and exercise to understand aging. And 500 lucky dogs will test out a new drug that may help slow the aging process, which could help us someday, too.

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I hope you found it worthwhile to publish what is, in essence, a duplication of the same story!

What rubbish!

No dog is ever ugly!

There was a recent item on The Smithsonian ‘Smart News’ that spoke of a dog winning the prize as the world’s ugliest dog!

I’m sure it was to gain headlines because no dog can be described as ugly.

Read the article yourself.

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Meet Scamp the Tramp, the World’s Ugliest Dog

Scamp took home the top prize in an annual competition that seeks to promote dog adoption

Yvonne Morones embraces her dog Scamp the Tramp after he wins the World’s Ugliest Dog contest. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

By Brigit Katz
smithsonian.com
June 24, 2019
Nineteen canine competitors flocked to California’s Sonoma County last Friday, all pawing for the coveted title of World’s Ugliest Dog. Among them was Willie Wonka, an American Staffordshire Terrier mix born with twisted legs and deformed front paws; Rascal Deux, a hairless, dentally challenged “mutant”; and Josie, an eight-time veteran of the contest, which has been taking place for nearly three decades, with bulging eyes and a too-long tongue. But only one pooch could be crowned the ugliest of them all. And that pooch was Scamp the Tramp.

Scamp, according to Derrick Bryson Taylor of the New York Times, is a dog of unknown breeding, with a plump body and two-inch-long legs. He has Yoda-like ears and wild hair that grows naturally in dreadlocks. His tongue lolls perpetually. Now, Scamp and his human, Yvonne Morones, are the recipients of a towering trophy and $1,500.

“He’s Scamp the Champ, no longer Scamp the Tramp,” Morones quips in an interview with Andrew Beale of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat.

The Ugliest Dog Contest’s pool of competitors was especially strong this year, so much so that the judges had a hard time picking just one pup. Once they had narrowed the contestants down to four, the judges asked the audience to cheer loudly for their favorite. Scamp was the clear winner.

Climbing to the top of the ugliest dog totem pole is no easy feat. Boasting a wonky appearance isn’t enough; dogs must also impress the judges and audience with their personalities and accomplishments. Scamp, according to his biography, regularly visits a local senior center and volunteers as a “reading dog,” letting first-graders read stories to him. His favorite book, his bio notes, is Go Dog Go.

“I think the audience saw his beautiful spirit and everything he’s given back to the community,” Morones tells Beale.

The competition’s second-place honor went to Wild Thang, a bushy-haired Pekingese who once contracted distemper, a viral disease that left Wild Thang with slight paralysis of the jaw and a front leg that never stops paddling. Tostito, a chihuahua who lacks teeth and a lower jaw, won third place and the Spirit Award, according to John Rogers of the Associated Press. As champion, Scamp joins the ranks of previous competition winners including Zsa Zsa the English bulldog and Martha the Neapolitan mastiff.

Scamp was found wandering the streets of Compton—“licking Taco Bell wrappers,” according to Taylor of the Times—and was adopted by Morones in 2014.

“It was on the way home that I knew I made the right choice,” she says. “There we were, two strangers in a car on the way home to a new start. Bob Marley was playing … and I looked over and little Scamp was bobbing his head. It was like he knew he had found his forever home.”

The Ugliest Dog Contest is without a doubt entertaining, but it also hopes to impart a serious message: Even dogs without a pedigree, or dogs that don’t quite measure up to standards of conventional canine beauty, are worthy of love and celebration. Many of the contestants, according to the competition’s website, have been rescued from shelters or puppy mills, and the contest organizers seek to promote adoption as an option for potential pet owners—“no matter [the dogs’] physical detractions.”

As part of their prize, Morones and Scamp were flown to New York for an appearance on NBC’s “Today Show.” There, Morones revealed that she was the owner of two previous Ugliest Dog winners—one of whom, Nana, took home the title six times.

In her opinion, Morones said, she doesn’t believe that her latest prize-winning pooch is ugly at all.

“He’s absolutely adorable,” she said. “When people first meet him, they go, ‘Oh, he’s kind of scary’ and then he wins them over with his sparkling personality.”

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Now that is not a particularly good photograph of Scamp in the article so I looked for an alternative.

Scamp the Tramp won the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest Friday evening in Petaluma.

Now he is not smart as in smooth-coated but he is a long way from being ugly. Reminds me a little of our own Sweeny.

Here’s a video of the champion.

Welcome to July!

Offering a clue

A republication of an earlier post from The Smithsonian

Those who read yesterday’s post will find today’s post highly interesting.

A copy of an article from two years ago in The Smithsonian.

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New Study Has a Bone to Pick With Dog Domestication Findings

Contrary to past research, a new DNA study suggests fido was only tamed once

One wave of domestication or two? The debate rages on. (Dageldog/iStock)

By Jason Daley
smithsonian.com
July 19, 2017

Though dogs are humanity’s oldest and most consistent animal friend, scientists have long struggled to figure out just how Canis familiaris came to be. Though researchers agree dogs are descended from wild wolves, they aren’t sure when and where domestication occurred. And as Tina Hesman Saey at Science News reports, a new study has revived the debate, suggesting that dogs were domesticated one time between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago.

Dog domestication has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. In 2016, researchers looked at the mitochondrial DNA of modern and ancient dog species, determining that dogs come from two different wolf populations, one found in Europe and one found in Asia. That means that wolves would have been domesticated in two different places, with the two lineages eventually mixing in modern dogs.

But this latest research contradicts the double-domestication hypothesis. According to Ben Guarino at the Washington Post, researchers looked at the well-preserved DNA of two ancient dogs found in Germany, one 7,000 years old and one 4,700 years old, as well as the complete genomes of 100 modern dogs and snippets of DNA from 5,600 other wolves and dogs.

They traced the rate of mutations in the over time in the dog genomes. This technique, which creates a “molecular clock,” indicates that dogs diverged from wolves 36,900 years ago to 41,500 years ago in a single domestication event. But they can’t determine exactly where the split occurred. About 20,000 years later, the molecular clock indicates dogs split into European and Asian groups. They published their results in the journal Nature Communications

Not everyone is convinced by the study. Greger Larson, Oxford evolutionary biologist and author of the earlier domestication study, tells Guarino that the latest research does not explain the “ridiculously deep split” between the genetics of ancient European and Asian dogs. He also points out that while ancient dog bones have been found in far eastern Asia and western Europe, the middle of Eurasia seems to be empty of dog bones, suggesting that there were two ancient populations, separated by vast distances.

Krishna Veeramah, a palaeogeneticist at Stony Brook University and author of the new study says he doesn’t anticipate that the paper will put the issue to rest. “More ancient dog DNA from genomes will ultimately solve the problem,” he tells Rachael Lallensack at Nature. Researchers are hoping to find more geographically diverse DNA from dogs as well as samples from different time periods.

Whether it happened once or twice, how and why did domestication occur?

As Veeramah​ tells Helen Briggs at the BBC that it’s likely dogs evolved from wolves that began hanging around human camps, scavenging their scraps. ”Those wolves that were tamer and less aggressive would have been more successful at this,” he says. “While the humans did not initially gain any kind of benefit from this process, over time they would have developed some kind of symbiotic relationship with these animals, eventually evolving into the dogs we see today.”

One early benefit of domesticated dogs may have been that they could help transport meat from carcasses or hunt dangerous game like cave bears and cave lions, Saey writes in an earlier Science News article.

For now, however, exactly when and where Fido first approached humans will remain a mastiff question.

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For my money the origins of the domestic dog are as Krishna Veeramah puts it: ”Those wolves that were tamer and less aggressive would have been more successful at this,” he says. “While the humans did not initially gain any kind of benefit from this process, over time they would have developed some kind of symbiotic relationship with these animals, eventually evolving into the dogs we see today.

When did we come together?

A cache of animal bones 11,500 years old suggests an answer.

Brigit Katz of The Smithsonian wrote an article in January that revealed that dogs and humans hunted together many thousands of years ago.

Here it is:

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Humans and Dogs May Have Hunted Together in Prehistoric Jordan

Bones at a settlement called Shubayqa 6 show clear signs of having been digested—but were much too large to have been eaten by humans

Selection of gazelle bones from Space 3 at Shubayqa 6 displaying evidence for having been in the digestive tract of a carnivore. ( Credit: University of Copenhagen)

By Brigit Katz
SMITHSONIAN.COM
JANUARY 17, 2019

When and where dogs came to be domesticated is a subject of scientific debate, but there is a wealth of research that attests to the long, intertwined history of humans and their best animal buddies. One theory about the early origins of this relationship posits that dogs were used to help early humans hunt. And, as Ruth Schuster reports for Haaretz, a new study suggests that this may have been the case among prehistoric peoples of what is now Jordan.

A team of archaeologists from the University of Copenhagen and University College London studied a cache of animal bones at an 11,500-year-old settlement called Shubayqa 6, which is classified as “Pre-Pottery Neolithic A,” or belonging to the first stage of Neolithic culture in the Levant. In the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, the researchers write that they found bones from a canid species, though they could not identify which one because the remains were poorly preserved. They also unearthed the bones of other animals that had been butchered. But perhaps most intriguing were the bones of animals—like gazelle, for instance—that bore clear signs of having passed through a digestive tract.

These bones were too big for humans to have eaten, leading the researchers to surmise that they “must have been digested by dogs,” says lead study author Lisa Yeomans, a zooarchaeologist at the University of Copenhagen. And the researchers don’t think this was a case of wild carnivores sneaking into the settlement to grab a bite.

For one, archaeological evidence indicates that Shubayqa 6 was occupied year-round, suggesting that “dogs were allowed to freely roam around the site picking over the discarded waste, but also defecating in the vicinity of where humans were inhabiting,” the study authors write.

There was also a noticeable surge in hare bones around the time that dogs started to appear at the site, and the researchers think this may be because the dogs were helping humans hunt small prey. Previously, the people of Shubayqa 6 might have relied on tools like netting to catch hares and other animals, says Yeomans, but it wouldn’t have been very effective. Dogs, on the other hand, could selectively target elusive prey.

Humans and dogs thus appear to have forged a reciprocal relationship in Jordan more than 11,000 years ago. There is in fact evidence to suggest that dogs were domesticated by humans in the Near East as early as 14,000 years ago, and some of that evidence seems to point to dogs being used during hunts. Rock art from a site near Shubayqa, for instance, seems to show dogs driving gazelle into a trap.

In light of such archaeological finds, “it would be strange not to consider hunting aided by dogs as a likely explanation for the sudden abundance of smaller prey in the archaeological record,” Yeomans says. Among the ancient peoples of Jordan, in other words, the complex history of dog domestication may have been well underway.

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That scientific debate mentioned in the first line of the article has been published in this place before. But I’m going to republish it tomorrow as it so perfectly goes with today’s post.