Veterinarians and other researchers continuously perform studies to learn more about our four-legged family members. The information provides insight into dogs’ mental and physical states, helps develop medications and practices to improve their quality of life, and allows pet parents to understand their pups better. The following article details some exciting research in 2022 that dog owners may find interesting.
Does Your Dog’s Breed Influence Their Behavior?
People often associate certain characteristics with particular dog breeds. For instance, Golden Retrievers are often characterized as friendly, Doberman Pinschers protective, and Akitas aloof. However, few genetic studies have been performed to map behavioral tendencies to genetic, heritable factors. Researchers from UMass Chan Medical School investigated this topic by studying more than 2,000 purebred and mixed-breed dogs. Genome-wide association studies are used in genetic research to determine if specific areas of variation in a genome are correlated to certain phenotypes. The researchers evaluated results of genome-wide association studies from deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) samples submitted by the dogs’ owners, as well as data from more than 18,000 owner surveys about their dogs. They identified 11 locations along the canine genome that were strongly associated with behavior, but none that were breed-specific.
The study results included data from 78 breeds and showed that breed contributed only about 9% to a dog’s behavior. Physical traits, such as coat color and fur length, were much more likely to predict breed than behavioral traits. This information has real-world implications. Many housing associations prohibit residents from owning certain dog breeds and many insurance companies will not cover certain dog breeds based on the belief that the particular breed is more likely to injure another dog or person. Based on these findings, those assumptions are wrong, and the policies and regulations should be remedied.
Does Your Pet Parenting Style Influence Your Dog?
How do you parent your dog? Do you set rules and expect them to behave, or do you let them do as they please? How does this experience influence your dog’s behavior and cognition? Researchers at Oregon State University decided to explore how the quality of the relationship between a dog and their owner affects how they perform behavioral and cognitive tasks. Researchers asked participating dog owners to complete a Pet Parenting Style survey. The owners were divided into three categories according to this data:
- Authoritative dog parents (i.e., high expectations and high responsiveness)
- Authoritarian dog parents (i.e., high expectations and low responsiveness)
- Permissive dog parents (i.e., low expectations and low responsiveness)
The researchers then performed three behavioral tests on the dogs. The first test evaluated the dog’s attachment to their owner, the second tested their sociability by studying the dog’s interactions with their owner and an unfamiliar person, and the third tested the dog’s ability to get a treat from a puzzle. The researchers’ findings included:
- Authoritative — Dogs who had authoritative owners were:
- the most likely to exhibit a secure attachment to their owner
- highly responsive to social cues
- more likely to seek proximity to their owner as compared to an unfamiliar person
- more independently persistent in the puzzle task
- the only dogs to successfully solve the puzzle task
- Authoritarian — Dogs who had authoritarian owners were:
- more likely to be insecurely attached to their primary caretaker compared with the authoritative group
- more likely to seek proximity to their owner than an unfamiliar person
- Permissive — Dogs who had permissive owners:
- followed the social cues of an unfamiliar person, but not their owner
- spent comparable time close to their owner, regardless of whether their owner was attentive
- were less persistent in the puzzle task
These findings indicate that the way you parent your dog may influence their behavior, as well as their cognitive function.
Can Your Dog Smell When You Are Stressed?
Dogs often seem to know when we are upset. This is one of the reasons they are known as man’s best friend. One way your dog detects your feelings is through their excellent sense of smell, but can they smell when you are stressed? According to a study published by researchers from Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland, dogs can differentiate people’s breath and sweat samples before and after a stress-inducing task. In the study, researchers collected breath and sweat samples from non-smokers before and after participating in a fast-paced arithmetic task. Researchers asked participants to self-report stress levels, and their physiological measurements, such as heart rate and blood pressure, were assessed.
Researchers showed the samples from people with subjective and objective stress indicators to trained dogs within three hours of collection. The dogs, which included four pups of different breeds and breed mixes who had been previously clicker trained to match odors in a discrimination task, were asked to find the stressed sample in a lineup also including the person’s relaxed sample. The dogs correctly identified the stressed sample 93.75% of the time. The researchers hypothesize that the dogs detect an odor associated with the change in volatile organic compounds produced by humans in response to stress. These findings may have applications to assist with training anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in service dogs.
Does Your Dog Cry With Joy When You Are Reunited?
Dogs obviously express their excitement when they see you, but do they tear up when you’re reunited? Researchers at the Azabu University in Japan investigated this question using a Schirmer Tear Test to measure 18 dogs’ tears before and after a reunion with their owners after five to seven hours of separation. Tear volume increased by 10% during the reunion. The researchers then compared the dogs’ tear volumes before and after reunions with their owners and other familiar people. They found that the dogs had increased tear production only when reunited with the owner. So, you may need to offer your dog a tissue the next time you return home after an extended absence!
The more we know about our pups, the better we can care for them. This research can also offer valuable insight into our interactions and bond with dogs and information about human health conditions. Current studies aim to learn more about dog aging, the effects of disease on lifespan, and how this information correlates with human health.