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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...


21 February 2013

Pet sounds

Hi Mia, 

Your last post opened an entirely new can of worms -- dog poo as a source of electricity. Yes, you went there, and your post was equipped with a lamp shaped like a dog taking a poo as well as the phrase, “I’m not talking crap (well, I am).” Extraordinary.

Since one of our goals at DYBID is to discuss topics that are important to dogs, it was inevitable that we’d arrive at poo. And while dogs probably don’t care what we do with their poo after they’re done with it (maybe that’s an incorrect assumption), it’s an area relished by many dogs, and I hope we revisit it.

Another area that many dogs give a crap about is barking. I just covered the topic of barking and growling (common pet sounds) for the Spring 2013 issue of The Bark, now on newsstands. 

Barking Decoded in The Bark
The Sounds of Dogs investigates what all the noise is about. Research finds that humans are pretty good at recognizing the context and emotional content of barks. Barks in an “alone” situation sound different from a “go away stranger” or “asking for a ball.” 

The NOVA special, Dogs Decoded, highlights barking at the 8:30 mark  
As a city dweller living in a first floor apartment facing the street, I hear a lot of different barks outside my window. Some barks I ignore, and others make me rush out of the apartment to investigate -- those are usually the high-pitched distress barks. Sometimes I bring treats, just in case.

The Sounds of Dogs also covers the various theories behind why dogs bark much more than wolves. Could barking have some relationship with communicating with humans? Or perhaps dogs often find themselves in conflicted situations, and then out pops a bark.  

But barking is not only about dogs, it’s also about managing human perceptions. Since some dog owners are apt to perceive barking as, “so annoying,” the article also discusses how to manage barking... within reasonable expectations. Additionally, it's important that barking not hinder the human-dog bond. From The Sounds of Dogs:

Susan Friedman, PhD, a pioneer in the application of applied behavior analysis to captive and companion animals and a psychology professor at Utah State University, explains, “For dogs, barking is a functional behavior, meaning it is maintained, increased or decreased due to consequences. Once this is [understood], it opens the door to changing the duration, intensity and frequency of the behavior by changing the consequences.” In other words, dogs can learn to be quieter.

Laura Monaco Torelli, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP, director of training at Animal Behavior Training Concepts in Chicago also weighs in:

Owners should focus not on eliminating barking altogether, but on reducing it to levels they find appropriate and livable. When she meets with clients to discuss their dogs’ barking issues, Monaco Torelli, asks questions such as, “How many barks is okay? What’s excessive to you?” This, she says, gives the trainer a good starting point from which to develop a plan to teach the client how to reshape a dog’s barking behavior. Trainers and owners discuss acceptable barking, and then implement techniques to achieve desired levels in each context.

For people who assume barking is just something on a dog's checklist, "Go to the bathroom, sniff another dog's butt, bark..." The Sounds of Dogs could be a good read.

Now! Rock out at your RSPCA talk, and then tell us all about the conference!


Hecht, J. The Sounds of Dogs. The Bark, Spring 2013.

© Julie Hecht 2013
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13 February 2013

Dog poo turning green – the power of science

Hey Julie,

Thanks for the run down on ScienceOnline and ‘Lend a Paw’ month

I completed the survey about my cat’s behaviour, it was quick and easy to do. 

I also liked your stroking video, but I’ll get back to that later, right now I need to tell you how dog poo (I think you usually say ‘poop’ in the USA?) is turning green.

Dog poo is turning green

It’s turning green and it’s thanks to the power of science. Or perhaps it’s the science of power? It’s easy to get confused. 

The important bit is that a Melbourne-based entrepreneur, Duncan Chew, received funding in 2012 from the Inspiring Australia strategy for his idea to turn dog waste into energy to light up parks around Australia. Titled Poo Power!, his project is using science to help our communities live more sustainably.

How big is this issue?

In Australia, we have one of the highest incidences of pet ownership in the world with over 60% of households owning a pet. The average dog produces 0.34 kilograms (that’s 0.75 lb) of faeces per day.

Do the maths, and that’s around 1.4 tonnes of dog poo needing to be disposed of DAILY in Australia, which adds up to a colossal 490,000 tonnes each year!

490 MILLION KG!  That’s 1,080,270 MILLION lbs!
(or almost 20 million labradors if you were following my pre-post riddle clues on our Facebook page!)

The USA have more than 20 times the number of dogs as Australia. Just saying.

The issue of dog waste disposal (what I like to call Poo-llution!) is an especially important issue in areas of growing urbanisation, cities with limited park spaces and in light of declining landfill site availability.
Using our love of dogs to brighten the future
Dog poo light? Not as silly as it might seem! (source)

The project will see a series of biogas generators turn dog waste into energy for lighting up Melbourne parks, at the same time as engaging audiences on the issue of ‘what is waste?’, and the potential opportunities posed by reassessing waste management practices. 1kg of dog poo will give you about 25-30 litres of raw biogas.

Biogas harvesting is achieved utilising anaerobic digestion (where a bunch of microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen) to produce a renewable energy source that can be used to power lighting. Or cooking! Imagine having a coffee as your dog runs around the park, while the coffee machine was powered by your dog’s poo!

I’m not talking crap (well, I am)

We know this can work. This kind of project has been implemented previously at ‘Park Spark’ in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near MIT. 

Munich Zoo similarly harness the energy of their animals’ faecal output to help power their operations. Imagine if shelters and other kennel facilities could use this system to reduce their power consumption and expenses? That would be awesome!
Can’t get enough of green dog poo? 
If you’d like to hear more and you happen to be in Melbourne this weekend, a) you should come over to my place, so we can say hi, and b) you can watch Duncan Chew and Melbourne filmmaker James Boldiston talk about the Poo Power! project at 12 midday on Saturday 16 February 2013 in ‘The Big Tent’ at Federation Square as part of the Sustainable Living Festival. Otherwise, you can keep up with further developments at the Poo Power! website. 

I’ll be touching base with you again after I speak at the RSPCA Scientific Seminar
Looking forward to having lots to report about animals and the science of positive welfare – more stroking!


Further reading:

Miller R. & Howell G.V.J. (2008). Regulating consumption with bite: Building a contemporary framework for urban dog management, Journal of Business Research, 61 (5) 525-531. DOI:  

Wells D.L. (2006). Factors Influencing Owners' Reactions to Their Dogs' Fouling, Environment and Behavior, 38 (5) 707-714. DOI:  

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 2012
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6 February 2013

Dogs helping cats: February is ‘Lend A Paw’ month

 Hi Mia!

Cats chilling with working dogs? I’ve never heard of that, and it’s the best idea! It's possible working dog organizations here in the States do that, and I’m just out of the loop. Clearly that experience/exposure is important for dogs and cats alike!

Yes, Josh had a bit of a run in with block of cheese and a tea kettle. Not to worry; he is healthy and happy, although the cheese felt violated and the tea kettle is out of commission.

Science Online 2013 Conference (#scio13)
Now that the whirlwind of Science Online is behind me, here are my thoughts:

#1. Raleigh is awesome. Beautiful, and fun downtown.  

#2. Trending: Apparently #scio13 was “trending” on twitter during the conference. I just learned a) what “trending” means, and that b) most of the time, things like Justin Beiber and
(Coffee is good)
LOL are trending. Good job scientists and science journalists for smashed them out of the way.

#3. Favorite sessions: How to create narrative, what’s going on in citizen science, making e-books and how to visualize data were some of my favorites. Oh, and coffee. Really good coffee.

#4. #scio13 summaries: If you're interested, here are more in-depth post-conference write-ups:

'Lend a Paw' month 
In other news, I have an unofficial announcement: February is now, 'Lend a Paw' month! By this I mean, Help scientists design a cat behavior questionnaire. (I say this is an “unofficial” month, but how does any month or week get an "official" purpose? How does February become Pet Dental Health month while November is Movember?)

Anyway, in my book, February is helping cats month! Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are creating a cat behavior assessment, similar to what they've done for dogs. You and I are familar with the C-BARQ -- a questionnaire commonly used in dog behavior and cognition research which provides standardized evaluations of canine temperament and behavior. 

Researchers are now creating a similar questionnaire for cats, and they need lots and lots of help. Cat owners can Lend a Paw by completing a brief questionnaire. 
Josh taking a break from Things My Cat Broke
While Josh was sitting on my lap (like an angel) I filled in the questionnaire for him.

Complete a questionnaire and Lend a Paw!
  • Have a cat?
  • Have 15 minutes?
  • Help validate and standardize a questionnaire to assess cat behavior.

Regardless of whether you live with a dog or a cat, this Nature video reminds us that "hairy mammals" like to be stroked... Take a look!

Here's to lending a paw! 

Hsu Y. & Serpell J.A. (2003). Development and validation of a questionnaire for measuring behavior and temperament traits in pet dogs, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 223 (9) 1293-1300. DOI:
© Julie Hecht 2013
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