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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...


30 June 2013

Mia & Julie at #SPARCS2013: Canine science for all!

Julie watching SPARCS in NYC (with friend & dog)

Hi Mia,

It's only right that we mention we've been cheating. We've spent the last two days over at #SPARCS2013, the canine science conference with the free, live streaming broadcast so anyone on planet earth can tune in.

As a reminder, SPARCS is short for the Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science. The conference goals are twofold: (1) promote research and education in canine science, and (2) provide a platform for leading minds in canine science to present, discuss and debate modern behavior science. So far, I think it's meeting its goals!

I'm still new to watching a conference live while following along on Twitter, and well, it's awesome. The conference is back up real soon for the third and final day, but I just wanted to say how much I'm enjoying the Twitter response and feedback from people watching our colleagues in the field. Some people are learning about research into play, attachment and social cognition (to name a few topics) for the first time, and the comments, questions and critiques are just really interesting unto themselves. For example, they make me think about different ways to approach a research question, different behaviors to measure and even ways to tweak experimental methods. Maybe we can talk about this type of thing later. In the meantime, see #SPARCS2013 for the entire Twitter feed and discussion.

Over at SciAm Blogs, I gave a brief summary of what's to come for the final day of #SPARCS2013 talks about Dog Cognition & Development. I titled the post, "How to decrease head cocking: Watch a dog behavior & cognition conference today." As more people become familiar with the phrase, "dog behavior and cognition research," there might be less be less head cocking when we say what we do.

Hope all's well!


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21 June 2013

Working dogs working together

Hey Julie!

It's the weekend and I'm racing about catching up after an amazing past fortnight! It's been a whirlwind and by gee, do I have some super fun things to tell you about!

Working dogs, working together

My first news is what has been keeping me flat out busy over the first half of this year, and ESPECIALLY for the past fortnight. 

I'm excited to introduce to you, the Australian Working Dog Alliance!

You know all about my work with the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS) working group and working dog research projects over the past six years, but I might not have mentioned that this year, the project team were given seed funding by AAWS to actually implement the first year of activities outlined in the Australian Working Dog Industry Action Plan

To do this, we realised that we needed to have an administrative home - an organisation that could drive the initiatives and partner with other groups and sponsor companies to maximise our reach - and so, the Working Dog Alliance has been founded. It is a registered not-for-profit organisation, that works with a diverse industry stakeholder network to improve the welfare of Australia's working and sporting dogs. 

The organisation will publicly launch in August, after the next national AAWS workshop. The Alliance's industry hub (and resource-filled!) website will launch then too, but if you want to keep in the loop, you can register on the webpage for email updates here or keep track of our progress on the Facebook page.

For the past two weeks, I've been travelling interstate with my colleague, Dr Nick Branson, visiting many groups to talk about the Working Dog Alliance, the Australian Working Dog Industry Action Plan and inviting them to be part of it all. I'm so happy to report that we've had the most positive and enthusiastic welcome we could have hoped for! We've met with over ten representative groups and bodies from various government, assistance and sporting dog, animal advocacy and rescue group industry sectors so far, and all have been keen to talk about their work and how the Alliance can help in sharing the best bits around the industry. 

We'll continue these meetings with many more working and sporting dog groups in the coming months.


In other exciting news, I'm really looking forward to speaking at the annual Getting 2 Zero Summit in September.

If you haven't heard of it, G2Z is a model that
"details the principles, structures and strategies for achieving zero killing of healthy and treatable cats and dogs (more than 90% of all incoming stray and surrendered cats and dogs) in whole communities"
I'll be there to share some of the things (science things, personal things, silly things, etc.) I've learned about social media in the year that we've been blogging together here on Do You Believe in Dog? - it will be great fun to join this group of highly committed and resourceful attendees. I'm sure I'll be learning lots of things!

Dog bearding

Now, it IS the weekend here, and I have to admit that my fancy has been somewhat tickled by the recent trend of dog beard photos

I'd love to invite you, and anyone else, to take a crack (but only if with a relaxed and willing canine conspirator - of course!) at creating one of these magical illusions!

I'll post my efforts on the DYBID Facebook page.

Your last post about measuring dogs and pro-actively preparing dogs to maximise their comfort in life, was fantastic (and not just because it started with "May I have your urine, please?").

Don't forget - SPARCS!

Don't forget the SPARCS international conference next weekend! Only 1 week away! Streaming direct into your lounge room, world wide!


Set your alarm/s - I've got mine ready to go,


Further reading:

N. Branson, M. Cobb, P. McGreevy (2012). Australian Working Dog Industry Action Plan 2013-15. Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

N. Branson, M. Cobb, P. McGreevy (2010). Australian Working Dog Survey Report 2009. Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Bik H.M. & Goldstein M.C. (2013). An introduction to social media for scientists., PLoS biology, PMID:

© 2013 Mia Cobb
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16 June 2013

May I have your urine, please?

Hi Mia!
Your dogs are most pat-worthy. Another reason I wish we lived closer.

So I posted that odd photo on Facebook to allude to the idea that much of canine science is about measuring dogs. 

I don’t mean like taking out a ruler, and saying, “I just want to see how long your tail is” (although, now that I think about it, I would like to measure dogs’ tails along with their sociability to other dogs. Might their be a relationship between tail length and dog-dog sociability? There was that robot study looking at dog approach to a robot dog with different-length tails that were either wagging or stiff. Maybe this is not so crazy? Hmm).

But as you mention in your last post, canine behavior, cognition and welfare researchers are often measuring things like heart rate, heart rate variability and blood pressure, as well as collecting blood, saliva and urine samples.

Since collecting these samples can be part of canine research, researchers often have to consider whether there is a way to collect biological samples in a way that is not bothersome to dogs. And, if a particular procedure would be bothersome, might it be preferable to collect a different type of sample? I’ve since learned that dogs can learn good associations with providing biological samples.

May I have your urine, please? 

Collecting urine from dogs is pretty easy peasy. As described in a paper by Lisberg and Snowdon, “We collected urine samples noninvasively using a sterile nonreactive plastic urine cup held in the urine stream.” See the dog slowing down for a sniff, hover around the rear end, kneel down and extend cup when it's go time (while wearing gloves, of course). Apparently there is even a "clean catch" method with an elongated handle.

While many dogs engage in pre-urination sniffing, dogs can also be taught to urinate on cue. For example, in a paper by Mitsui et al investigating urinary oxytocin levels, the researchers note that, “All dogs could urinate at the direction of human.”  

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, The Dog Trainer on Quick and Dirty Tips offers suggestions on how to teach dogs to pee on command

While sniffing and olfactory exploration are key to a dog’s experience of the world, it can be handy to teach dogs to “do their business” on cue. You might have things to add to this topic, especially when it comes to working dogs.

May I have your blood, please?

Maybe it’s obvious that collecting a dog’s urine is not a big deal (although sometimes, people can make the experience distressing for dogs). It's almost like many dogs are giving it out for free. But blood? Needles? That all seems a lot more challenging, and even painful.
Voluntary blood draw in action (Source)

Laura Monaco Torelli, Director of Training for Animal Behavior Training Concepts in Chicago and faculty member of the Karen Pryor Academy (Twitter: @ABTConcepts)
recently wrote an excellent blog post (with demo videos!!) on How to Teach Voluntary Blood Draws: Lessons from Dolphins and Horses Apply to Dogs. As Monaco Torelli explains, “One of our more specific goals for Santino [her dog] was for him to stand without restraint for a blood draw.”

Monaco Torelli provides a number of proactive steps people can take to introduce positive experiences with medical and grooming procedures. The end result, an unrestrained blood draw! She also offers suggestions to shape various grooming procedures, like working up to putting drops in eyes, or prepping for ear drops or even receiving a microchip.

So that’s what I often think about, in research and my personal life. How can I make dogs (and other non-human animal) as comfortable as possible in their daily lives? And to that end, can I proactively prepare them for the different experiences that they will face later in life?

Hope all's well!


Lisberg A.E. & Snowdon C.T. (2009). The effects of sex, gonadectomy and status on investigation patterns of unfamiliar conspecific urine in domestic dogs, Canis familiaris, Animal Behaviour, 77 (5) 1147-1154. DOI:

Mitsui S., Yamamoto M., Nagasawa M., Mogi K., Kikusui T., Ohtani N. & Ohta M. (2011). Urinary oxytocin as a noninvasive biomarker of positive emotion in dogs, Hormones and Behavior, 60 (3) 239-243. DOI:

© 2013 Julie Hecht
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8 June 2013

The touching things about dogs

Hi Julie,

(source: The Blue Dog)
WOW! May was a seriously jam-packed month for dogs! I'm just as amazed as you are that it's already June. I think I'm in denial, although June means lots of fun things happening, like the SPARCS conference, so maybe it's actually OK that it's here.

I loved your last post. So much great information - thank you for sharing! You mentioned how you avoid touching dogs if they don't want to interact and that got me thinking about a sense I haven't written about yet. 

We've covered views, smells, music and now, I'm going to touch on, well... touch
Not the bitey kind of touch, but the soothing, calm, stroking kind.

The outside of a dog is good for our insides...
It's true. Patting a dog is something we enjoy. The tactile experience of touching something soft and warm is inherently pleasing

Research has shown that human oxytocin (=happy/social/feel good/"love" hormone) levels rise when we interact with our dogs. Our blood pressure and heart rates lower when we pat dogs, as do our cortisol (=stress hormone) levels.

These are just some of the reasons there is so much interest in researching further benefits of human-animal interactions and animal-assisted therapies.

...and we can be good for a dog's insides too!

Interestingly, other studies have shown that dogs' heart rate, cortisol levels and blood pressure can lower when we groom and pat them. Of course, this is not universal. Dogs are individuals and their preferences will vary.

Not all pats are equal

Research suggests that dogs prefer to be patted in a soothing way. Not really surprising - think of how we like to be touched and compare a back slap with a gentle stroke. I know which would be more likely to lower my heart rate and relax me!

A study that examined the reinforcing value of physical contact by grooming to dogs showed that length of grooming (longer=better) was more important than location of grooming in reducing heart rate.

What are you doing this week? I'm off to Sydney for a few days to meet with loads of different working dog groups to talk Action PlanI'll be sure to tell you all about it next time. 

Right now, I'm going to go give my dogs a nice long pat!

Further reading:

McGreevy P.D., Righetti J. & Thomson P.C. (2005). The reinforcing value of physical contact and the effect on canine heart rate of grooming in different anatomical areas, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 18 (3) 236-244. DOI:

Coppola C.L., Grandin T. & Enns R.M. (2006). Human interaction and cortisol: Can human contact reduce stress for shelter dogs?, Physiology & Behavior, 87 (3) 537-541. DOI:

Hennessy M.B., Voith V.L., Hawke J.L., Young T.L., Centrone J., McDowell A.L., Linden F. & Davenport G.M. (2002). Effects of a program of human interaction and alterations in diet composition on activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in dogs housed in a public animal shelter, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 221 (1) 65-91. DOI:

Bergamasco L., Osella M.C., Savarino P., Larosa G., Ozella L., Manassero M., Badino P., Odore R., Barbero R. & Re G. & (2010). Heart rate variability and saliva cortisol assessment in shelter dog: Human–animal interaction effects, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 125 (1-2) 56-68. DOI:

Odendaal J.S.J. (2000). Animal-assisted therapy — magic or medicine?, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 49 (4) 275-280. DOI:

O'Haire M. (2010). Companion animals and human health: Benefits, challenges, and the road ahead, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 5 (5) 226-234. DOI:

© 2013 Mia Cobb
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2 June 2013

Dogs in Review: May 2013

Canine Science! Everywhere! AHHH! (source)

Hey Mia!
Didn’t May come and go in a flash? Is it possible to ask for an extension? The world of canine science was bopping last month, so here’s a review of things I would have liked to cover in more detail, if I were granted a two-week extension:

--> Dogs in Research
Dogs rocked peer-reviewed journals last month! As you mentioned, the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab published an article in a recent issue of Learning and Motivation. We looked at the olfactory experience of companion dogs, and I'm sure I'll talk more about our paper later. The issue will include a number of dog-centric, peer-reviewed articles covering a variety of canine cognition topics such as olfaction, memory, physical cognition, and the influence of humans on dog behavior. Here’s a brief overview of a few of the studies:
How can I not mention a paper talking about magic bones? “Using a procedure popular with preverbal infant researchers, [the researchers] allowed dogs to initially observe a bone and then to subsequently view the bone changed in either size or color. Dogs gazed longer at a bone changed in either way, compared to a control presentation of an unchanged bone. Dogs apparently encoded and remembered both the size and color of the bone.” *
“[Domestic] dogs can be trained to detect a distinct odor (anise) buried in pine shavings. However, it took dogs about 60 trials to reach an average performance level of 80% correct choices, and dogs learned much better when a human experimenter delivered food reward than when the reward was buried with the odor cue.” *
“[Dogs] would repeatedly choose a bowl containing a carrot over a bowl containing preferred sausage if a human pointed to the carrot bowl. In a delayed response test, dogs regularly search at the location where they last saw food disappear.” *
Chaser knows words (source)
A border collie named Chaser initially captured headlines in 2011 as “the smartest dog in the world” when research published in Behavioral Processes reported that she knew the names of over 1,000 different objects.
Pilley’s current article investigated Chaser’s attention to the syntactical relationships between words, like differentiating “to ball take Frisbee” from “to Frisbee take ball.”
What’s going on with “wordy dogs” like Chaser? How did they get this way? And how can we test whether the dogs in our homes understand our words as we intend them?

In other canine science news, I was happy to see that the blog Companion Animal Psychology (twitter: @CompAnimalPsychcovered a recent publication by Frank McMillan et al investigating behavioral problems in puppies from pet stores vs puppies from non-commercial breeders. According to the study: What were the behavioral differences between pet store and breeder-obtained dogs? Read on!
--> Dog Bite Prevention Week 2013
Apparently, the third full week of May is dog bite prevention week, but in my mind, every day is (or should be) dog bite prevention day. I don’t want to be bitten by a dog, and also I don’t want to give a dog the experience of biting me. So how do we prevent dog bites?
  • I also avoid bites by not interacting with dogs like this: 
Watch Sophia Yin Dog Bite Prevention Video
  • Instead, I ask dogs whether they want to interact, as recommended in a great post by Khris Erickson, the Humane Educator at HAWS, Humane Animal Welfare Society in Wisconsin. 

  • If dogs indicate that they are not into interacting, then we don't interact. It's that simple. What I sometimes find is that owners of "so friendly" dogs want to push an interaction even if the dog is giving "not right now" indications. A dog can still be "uber-friendly" without wanting to interact all the time with everyone. I've been thinking about this a lot recently as NYC enters summer and dogs are looking hotter and hotter, and potentially experiencing some physical discomfort.

  • I also think about context, practicing interventions and what a leash can (and can’t) prevent. Patricia McConnell, CAAB, offers in-depth insights into this topic over at her blog, The Other End of the Leash, in the post 'Dog Bite Prevention 2013.'

  • When it comes to preventing dog bites, I frequently check out The Blue Dog, a website aimed at educating children about dogs. I first learned about The Blue Dog at the 2nd Canine Science Forum. The website houses resources and research on children and dog bites, in addition to providing general dog information:
--> Up next: Some of the leading canine science researchers will be presenting at a Canine Science Conference, SPARCS, June 28-30, 2013. The best part is, anyone in the world can join, either in a conference hall in Redmond, WA, or streaming live to your living room. 
I recently covered the SPARCS conference on #SciAmBlogs, who will be there & what to expect, at You’re invited to a canine science conference. Take a look!

I know your life is currently heavily focused on The Big W, and I’m not talking about the best movie ever, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Hoping for an update on working dog welfare!


* summary by Macpherson K. & Roberts W.A. (2013). Exploring the canine mind: Studies of dog cognition, Learning and Motivation, DOI:

© 2013 Julie Hecht
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