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Do you Believe in Dog? (2018). Powered by Blogger.

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It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...


23 December 2013

Is It Okay To Give Pets As Gifts?

Hi Mia!

By now, the world is well aware that a major benefit of an international pen-pal blog is presents! You introduced me to TimTams (a delicacy that I am beyond obsessed with), and just today I got Aussie Toast Stamps and an "ugly" Christmas sweater that is not ugly at all!!

But in all seriousness. I love packages. I love mail of any kind. I get very excited when I hear the crazy mailman in the hallway (although lately he has been putting our mail in other people’s mailboxes so I have to wait until our kind neighbors pass it along). Anyway, I love all mail. Mail is like a present.

All this talk of gifts actually relates to our favorite topic (dog science!) because there seems to be a subtle shift in the thinking about pets as gifts. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had the idea that it’s not a good idea to give a pet as a gift. A quick look around the Internet reifies this belief:

PAWS: “Giving a pet as a gift is usually an ill-advised decision that can end tragically.”

Dogs Trust: “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.”

Dr. Andy Roark, VetStreet: "Friends Don’t Surprise Friends With Commitments. Pets = Commitments."

Dr. Karen Becker: "5 Reasons Not to Give a Pet as a Christmas Gift This Year."

But there's a new conversation brewing, and a few studies point in a different direction. A recent survey by the ASPCA found “no significant relationship between receiving a dog or cat as a gift, whether a surprise or not, and the receivers’ self-perceived love or attachment toward the pet.” Additionally, “receiving a dog or cat as a gift does not negatively impact that pet, either by altering the human-pet bond, or by shortening the time the pet is kept in the home.”

Maybe there is more to the story than, Don’t Give A Pet As A Gift! And if that’s the case, we should consider how pets could be gifted in ways that benefits both people and animals. 

I also wrote about this topic on Scientific American. If you're going to gift a pet, I highlighted two suggestions by Wisconsin Humane Society Executive Director, Anne Reed: 1) Carefully think about what the gift recipient wants and not what you want, and 2) Think about giving an adoption kit with all the necessary animal accouterments, and then take a trip to the animal shelter together. 

I'm excited that this topic is on the table for discussion. At the same time, we should keep in mind that this study comes from a small survey of 222 people scattered across the USA who received a dog or cat as a gift in the last 10 years. I would love more details into what makes for successful or unsuccessful pets as gifts. 

Speaking of presents, I'm off to eat some Tim Tams! Happy Holidays and Happy Belated Birthday to you!!



Weiss et al. 2013. Should Dogs and Cats Be Given as Gifts? Animals 3, 995-1001. Open Access

More Reading On Pets As Gifts 
Julie Hecht: Should Pets Be Given As Gifts? Scientific American 
Jessica Pierce. Giving Pets as Gifts: Should You or Shouldn't You. Psychology Today
ASPCA Blog: Pets As Gifts—Wrap ‘Em Up!
ASPCA Blog: Give a Gift of a Dog or Cat This Holiday Season!
Andy Roark: Video: Think Twice Before Giving Pets as Gifts. VetStreet
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15 December 2013

Dogged in December - wait, December?!!

Hi Julie,
Photo by Mel Travis | What About Charlie?

goodness me, what happened? I was at the amazing Working Dog Conference 2013, then launching the Global Poo Power! Challenge, I blinked and suddenly it's mid-December already? Huh?! Gosh!

Sorry for being absent for a few weeks, I've been focussed on getting as much content from the #workdogs13 event up on the Working Dog Alliance website as possible, so that everyone can access the fantastic content that was shared by a wide range of speakers. From the conference proceedings, to PDF of presentation slides, audio and even You-Tube clips combining them all, you can now share in everything from Dr Nicola Rooney's keynote presentations, to fresh new research on working dogs; unique stories about dogs used in conservation programs and rescue groups working to provide positive endpoint outcomes; practitioners views on breeding and rearing working dogs and insightful facts and figures about areas like greyhound racing and thoughts on why there is such high 'wastage'. 

The half-dog selfie movement took off at #workdogs13

The Poo Power! Global Challenge went off with a bang... 

(or is that a fart? LOVED your Scientific American Dog Spies pieces on why dog farts stink, Part 1: What are dog farts made of? here, Part 2: How to make dog farts less stinky here - captivating area of research and I do not envy the 'odour judge' who to had to decide if dog farts were scentless or unbearable, or somewhere in between!) and we enjoyed watching the photos get logged on the Global Poo Map

Science For Life 365

The student competition part of the Challenge is now over, but don't worry - it's not too late to download the free App and start to map the crap! It's super quick and easy to do and I know the Poo Power! team would really love to see some international 'contributions', so to speak. All details about how to participate as a citizen scientist can be found here.

As for me, well, I'm looking forward to closing out 2013 with the fun times in the sun with family, friends and reviewing results from the meta-analysis - as you do. 

What's on your list, Julie?


p.s. In case you were wondering, that gorgeous photo at the top of this post (it's my legs with my darling old dog Caleb, and my mother's dog, retired Guide Dog Haidee) - taken as part of a shoot done for this Dumbo Feather article 

© Mia Cobb | Do You Believe in Dog? 2013

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22 November 2013

Poo Power! Global Challenge

Hey Julie,
it's not every week I get to issue an invitation to the entire world, but that's exactly what I'm doing today!

Students invited to compete in global dog poo competition:

Poo Power! Global Challenge launches Monday 25 November 2013

Students and classes will be pitched against each other to see who can identify the most and largest dog waste 'hotspots' in their local neighbourhood in the 'Poo Power! Global Challenge'. Participants use a GPS-enabled iPhone to download the free Poo Power! App from the App Store. Their task is to identify and map dog poo 'hotspots' in dog parks and public spaces from their neighbourhood from Monday 25 November 2013. 

While the initial competition is being run for students and schools, anyone, anywhere can participate and contribute to this citizen science initiative.
Duncan & Diesel from Poo Power!
This eyebrow-raising project is a collaboration between dog poo entrepreneur Duncan Chew from Poo Power! and me (!), as a way to say thanks to all the students who voted for me to win I'm a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here! in Australia recently. The collected information will be uploaded onto the Global Poo Map and provides a platform for students to discuss the scientific, social and environmental issues of dog waste. The students are then encouraged to write a letter to their local Government representative of their findings and recommendations. Citizen science at it's finest! 

Scientific American are currently featuring Poo Power! on their Citizen Science website

"From our research only 3% of Australians see uncollected dog waste as an environmental concern," explains Duncan Chew. "When it rains, uncollected dog poo gets washed down drains, effecting water quality and habitat for native animals, as well as making rivers and creeks unpleasant for us to visit."  

I just think this is a great way to utilise the prize money from winning the I’m A Scientist – Get Me Out of Here! competition; it raises awareness of new sustainable energy sources, environmental issues and responsible dog ownership, all while increasing student engagement in a citizen science activity.
The collated information has the poo-tential to identify sites for biogas-powered lights for parks as proposed by the Melbourne-basedproject, Poo Power!, currently in development. The methane that is released from the dog waste as it breaks down inside a 'biogas generator' can be used as a viable renewable energy source.
Photo: Steven Pam

Competition prizes and giveaways are up for grabs for students whose submissions are received between 25th November and 9th December 2013. After this initial competition period closes, the project will continue to run, collecting ongoing hotspot data worldwide.
Check out everything you need to know at
Download the full instructions to participate here

To contextualise the material for classroom lessons, teachers can download the Poo Power! Study Guide

Competition details

Individual student prizes include 2 iPod Shuffles (for the two students who log the most hotspots) and 4 Doggie Doo games (random giveaways to people mapping hotspots) during the two week competition period.
For each competing class, teachers will receive a copy of the 'Dog Poo - The Truth At Last' on DVD. For contextualising the material for classroom lessons teachers are encouraged to download the Study Guide from the Poo Power! Resources page.
Download the full instructions to participate here
Further reading:

Okoroigwe E.C., Ibeto C.N. & Okpara C.G. (2010). Comparative Study of the Potential of Dog Waste for Biogas Production, Trends in Applied Sciences Research, 5 (1) 71-77. DOI:  

Nemiroff L. (2007). Design, Testing and Implementation of a Large-Scale Urban Dog Waste Composting Program, Compost Science & Utilization, 15 (4) 237-242. Link: click here to view PDF

© Mia Cobb | Do You Believe in Dog? 2013
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14 November 2013

Accessible animals for your viewing pleasure

Dogs are a big thing for us here at Do You Believe in Dog?, and if you’re visiting us, they’re probably a big deal for you too! 

We watch them, study them, talk about them, talk to them, heck we even write about them. And while dogs occupy much of our lives, a wide variety of non-human animals creep into our daily lives, particularly through YouTube.

While Mia wraps up the post-event details for the inaugural Working Dog Conference (which went exceedingly well, details to come!) we want to share a few animal videos that we've recently come across. Down the road, we’ll discuss how videos featuring animals, particularly those generated by the general public, can be incredibly useful to animal behavior (behaviour!) researchers. 

And! If you had to select a favorite video from those below, which would it be, and why? We'd love to hear your preferences and thoughts in the comment section below.

Milley on DYBID? Let us explain! Over on Vimeo, check out David Attenborough like never before. Click here to watch Attenborrowed
by wreckandsalvage
(Twitter/Facebook), a creative union between the world of natural birds and pop music "birds." 

Scientific American blogger, Jason Goldman reminds us that it’s not only the general public who are making videos of animals. To capture footage of the rarely seen African golden cat, scientific researchers set video camera traps.

The lure: Meat? Nope. More Meat? Nope. Calvin Klein Obsession For Men. That isn't something you can make up, and Goldman explains why the researchers decided on this, uhm, fragrance.  

For more animal videos, check out the post Ten Special YouTube Animal Videos by Dr. Hal Herzog, author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals. You'll get an answer to the question, "Should birds and cats hang out?"


Julie & Mia

© Do You Believe in Dog? 2013

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3 November 2013

Hours Away! Steve White and Nicola Rooney Inaugural Working Dog Alliance Conference


Hi Mia,
This is clearly not an announcement for you. Instead, it is an internet broadcast that the first Working Dog Alliance Australia Conference is almost here, Nov. 4-5 in Sydney!

You and many others have put months into this initiative, and tomorrow (or your today!) people involved in every aspect of working dogs will come together to share ideas, network and learn! Attendees to include working dog breeders, trainers, handlers, veterinarians, facility managers, research scientists, advocacy groups and government representatives.

I want to make sure everyone knows what’s happening, and how they can follow along!

Conference dates: November 4-5, 2013 Australia time ;)

Conference Twitter Hashtag#workdogs13  

Twitter hashtags are awesome because anyone can follow along with the conference, even if you aren’t on twitter! Hear that, mom? ;) 

Conference Program: Click here  

What Should People Expect at the Conference? 
If I didn’t have to go watch the New York City Marathon I would profile each of the excellent conference speakers, but I have to go watch people mash their feet up, I mean, do an awesome job running so many miles!!  

Here's a taste of what people can expect from the keynote speakers at the inaugural Working Dog Alliance Australia Conference

Welfare of working dogs and its impact on performance: research so far
Nicola Rooney, University of Bristol, UK

Rooney has a PhD in dog behavior (I’ve read her work on play behavior many times) and for the past 14 years she has headed a team studying working dogs (see her bio for specific areas they’ve covered). So many factors can affect working dog performance, and welfare -- defined and measured -- can play a huge part. 

(Source: Rooney)
Border Patrol Dogs Need to Sniff: Here in the States, the Penn Vet Working Dog Center also prioritizes welfare in terms of performance. They list dehydration as a common hazard for working dogs. A recent (and ongoing) study with the Sarita Texas checkpoint Border Patrol agents examines the effect of different hydration strategies on dogs working in hot and humid conditions. The Sarita checkpoint averages 95°F in July with around 84% humidity. Eep!

They are examining different hydration strategies like water delivered orally, an electrolyte solution delivered orally and a subcutaneous electrolyte solution. No data released yet on which fluid best impacted parameters like core body temperature, search behavior and activity and looking forward to more! Maybe this will come up at the conference? Penn Vet Study details here.


Your dog ain’t so special
Steve White, ProActive K9 & Seattle Police Canine Unit USA

White and McConnell Seminar
Excellent title. Steve White covers a lot of ground, from working dogs to companion dogs (he recently gave a seminar with Patricia McConnell in Chicago). Steve is a Military Police Working Dog Handler, has presided over the Seattle Police Canine Unit, and is a consultant for K9 academies around the world. His hands-on work is a big deal. 

Here is Steve in action, combining clicker training and scent work and discussing the 8 rules of Punishment.

Enjoy the conference everyone!

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27 October 2013

When equipment fails: paws and assess

Photo: Steven Pam
There is an industry in Australia that relies on an integral piece of equipment, but the system behind product development process is flawed, and lives are at stake. From farm dogs to military explosive detection dogs, guide dogs to greyhounds, Australia’s working and sporting dog industry claims a 50-70% fail rate as normal. The welfare of these dogs is intimately linked to their working performance. 

It can be an emotive topic, so let’s take the emotion out of it and objectively consider current practice.

A diverse industry, with four sectors operating in different domains, is dependent on one key piece of equipment. A tool that can vary in price from free to $40,000, can be purchased new or second hand, but is unequivocally required to get the job done. Hundreds of thousands of units are currently used daily throughout Australia in government, human health, sporting and private operations.

Practitioners invest resources in this equipment, only to find that the tool doesn't work. It’s unsuitable. It operates at the wrong speed. It breaks. It just doesn't do the work it was meant to - at least half of the time! In some industry sectors, the equipment fail rate is estimated as high as eighty percent. Waste units are disposed of and new ones sourced. Perhaps from a large scale manufacturer, perhaps from a private artisan, or some people go ahead and take a crack at making their own. Recycling within the industry is extremely low, at less than ten percent. The production of this equipment is currently inefficient; the industry has no validated minimum standards in place and the product lacks quality assurance.

From an industry business and performance perspective, what should be done? A review of the purpose and production life-cycle analysis for this tool seems indicated? Absolutely. A review of how the equipment is being employed, handled, maintained and stored by practitioners? Yes. Perhaps a review of the training courses and educational materials available to the practitioners and the people who train them? For sure.

Without objective review and subsequent improvement, this industry is leaving itself open to scrutiny by the media and risks losing public support. Review of this kind is common. In industrial design and quality management fields, validation of product integrity, ongoing review and updating of evidence-based best practice are standard. Re-purposing of surplus or malfunctioning stock into other areas rather than directly to landfill may require additional resources. However, this extra spend is important as tolerance for unnecessary waste in the 21st century is limited. Indeed, the sustainability and economic viability of this industry into the future relies on improved accountability, higher transparency and demonstrated responsibility.

We owe this commitment to review and refine the production, management and education surrounding this device to the industry, the people involved and the tasks they achieve. It’s sound business practice. And we owe it to the dogs.

Hi Julie,

I wrote this because I wanted to consider if there was a good case to be made for improving the welfare of working dogs, without the emotion or emotive slant often inherent in animal welfare discussions. 

This came about after recent conversations with people who have suggested my work towards improved working dog welfare is based on me 'loving dogs' or having bleeding-heart, idealistic expectations about the way dogs should be cared for. I hope I have been able to demonstrate that this is a) not about me, and b) that a good argument for objective review and assessment of how working dogs are produced can be made, even before adding consideration for the fact these are sentient animals with capacity to thrive or suffer as a result of how we manage their lives.

I'm looking forward to continuing these conversations at the Working Dog Conference 2013 next week.

Wish you were here,


Further reading:
Branson, Cobb, McGreevy (2010). The Australian Working Dog Survey Report 2009. Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. 

Branson, Cobb, McGreevy (2012). The Australian Working Dog Industry Action Plan 2012. Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. 

Kruger J. & Dunning D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77 (6) 1121-1134. DOI:  

Dunning D., Johnson K., Ehrlinger J. & Kruger J. (2003). Why people fail to recognize their own incompetence, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 12 (3) 83-87. DOI:

Ehrlinger J., Johnson K., Banner M., Dunning D. & Kruger J. (2008). Why the unskilled are unaware: Further explorations of (absent) self-insight among the incompetent, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 105 (1) 98-121. DOI:

Dunning D. (2011). The Dunning-Kruger effect: On being ignorant of one's own ignorance, Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 44 247-296. DOI:

© Mia Cobb | Do You Believe in Dog? 2013
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20 October 2013

3 Ways We’re Wrong About Dogs

Hi Mia!

Very excited to see that the program for the Working Dog Alliance Conference is out! I love conference programs. I think I’m a visual learner because when I try and remember back to a talk, I remember that the talk abstract appeared in
say, a blue booklet, and that the abstract was on the right side of the page. Or maybe that has nothing to do with being a visual learner and means something entirely different. Anyway...

I wish I could attend the entire working dog conference (damn you ocean!), but I do have some favorite talks that I'm sad to miss. I’m particularly interested in "Racing to retirement, is there a better way?", "Characterizing Dogmanship" as well as Steve White and Nicola Rooney’s talks.

You and I are trading places again. It almost time to change the clocks, and it’s getting darker here earlier and earlier. DAMN YOU WINTER!! 

On a happier note, I’m looking forward to speaking at the Association of Professional Dog Trainers next weekend in Spokane, Washington (#APDT2013)!

I’m covering two topics, and summaries are available here:
  • Contextualizing Canine Behavior and Cognition Research 
  • The Science and Politics of Anthropomorphism
At the last two APDT conferences, I presented posters of my personal research, and I’m looking forward to giving more comprehensive talks this year. 

While preparing for the conference, I found myself remembering that humans are often not spot-on in our interpretation of all things dog.

3 Misconceptions About Dogs

1) Working Dogs Have Good Welfare
I imagine when people hear the term 'working dog' they picture accomplished dogs of war jumping out of planes or sniffing out chemical weapons. Or, people might picture guide dogs for the blind or hearing dogs for the deaf. But those are only the "stars" or "headliners" of the working dog world; working dogs include so many different dogs doing so many things for us and with us

Good welfare is not explicitly bound to certain types of canine work and absent from others. And good welfare cannot simply be assumed because dogs are performing a particular job.

This reminds me of an earlier post you wrote -- "The Heat(map) is On: Colours of Canine Welfare." You discussed peoples' perceptions of the welfare of different types of dogs. Perceptions and realities are both important, and I'm happy to see industry and science coming together to better the lives of working dogs.
(Greyhound at her new job: Source)

As I mentioned, greyhounds hold a special place in my heart. Whenever I see one on the street, I always wonder, “Where did you come from, big friend? What has your life been like?” They never answer, but sometimes their owner fills me in on the details.

2) Separation Distress is Just a Dog Missing its Owner

Research into why dogs show destructive and problematic behavior when owners are out is growing. Motivations are many and could include "fear, anxiety, over-attachment, agitation from outside stimulation and/or lack of appropriate stimulation." 

Mark Evans is a veterinary surgeon and former chief veterinary advisor of the RSPCA in the UK. He now holds informative animal-focused TV shows. For his recent program, he teamed up with Dr. Rachel Casey from the University of Bristol to examine the behavior of 40 dogs when their owners were out of the house. See what they found here, and they've also highlighted the progress of three dogs: Bruno, Oscar and Max.

Recently, Parthasarathy et al. (2006) examined whether “dysfunctional” attachment styles to owners were related to dog separation issues. They concluded that “separation anxiety is not based on ‘hyperattachment’ of the dog to the owner...” Although they did add that “different attachment style may be present between dogs with and without separation anxiety.” 

Blanket assumptions about why dogs are distressed in owners’ absences aren't helpful. Each dog needs to be considered on its own terms.

3) Canine Behavior & Cognition Research Has ALL the Answers! ;) 
This is a direct plug for my first talk at the APDT conference in Spokane next week, "Contextualizing Canine Behavior and Cognition Research."

Science is a way of looking at the world that prioritizes asking questions and devising ways to investigate those questions. This field of study is relatively young. It is continually growing and evolving. Studies build on one another, and in some cases, substantiate earlier findings, and in other cases, not so much. At my talk next Sunday, October 27 (at 8:00 AM!), I'll highlight the idea that our field is best viewed as an evolving process.

That's me in a nut shell!

Looking forward to more welfare news!


Horowitz, D. 2010 Separation anxiety in dogs. Veterinary Focus. 20(1), 18-26.

Parthasarathy et al.  2006. Relationship between attachment to owners and separation anxiety in pet dogs (Canis lupus familiaris). Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. 1, 109–120. 
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