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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...


29 August 2013

Camp Unleashed: Heaven on earth for dogs?


Hi Mia!
How fun following you on Facebook and Twitter answering student science questions for "I'm a Scientist. Get Me Out Of Here!" A zombie apocalypse should not be taken lightly, and we must consider how to prepare. And glad someone asked why dogs eat grass. That question makes a bit more, um, sense ;)

A Special Place for Dogs
We’ve all heard of the Rainbow Bridge, a mythical land where pets go when they pass away to hopefully meet again with their owners. While I don’t know whether that exists, I do know that if there’s a Heaven on earth for dogs, it's probably Camp Unleashed (Facebook/Twitter).

Annie Brody founded Camp Unleashed in 2004 “on the premise that dogs need a vacation from the human world — a place where they can be off-leash, safe, and in a pack with other dogs in their own natural environment.”

The four-day retreats offers activities and experiences for dogs and their people alike that highlight seeing the world from the dog’s point of view. The two camp locations, one in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts and the other in Asheville, North Carolina, offer a wide range of activities depending on the session: agility, canine cognitive games, canoeing and water sports (for all), clicker training, off-leash hikes, and scent games, to name a few.

The idea is simple: both dogs and their people need a taste of life off the leash. For many, it is often the first time they’ve experienced this possibility, and from what I hear, it’s very eye-opening! For example:

"Camp Unleashed allows me to bond with my dog in a way I can nowhere else. My dog is allowed to be himself, with a joy and a freedom that I cannot offer him in the real world. I find that I relax more too, being around like-minded people and tapping into dog-like qualities--living in the moment, enjoying nature, taking pleasure in my surroundings and just letting go."
-- Elizabeth Bermel, Ossining, NY 2011 Berkshires

Brody also hosts an online radio show called The Dog Connection. Recently, Alexandra Horowitz and I joined her on the air to talk dogs.
Julie interview: The science behind dogs and the dog-human relationship
Alexandra Horowitz interview:
What’s it like to be a dog?


And now for the exciting news: this weekend, I get to go to Camp Unleashed! I’m giving the Saturday night lecture at Camp Unleashed in the Berkshires titled, What Can Canine Cognition Research Do for You? Get Into the Head of the Dog in Your Bed, and You'll Both Be Happier. And of course, I’m very much looking forward to seeing the camp in action.

This will be the first time I give a talk to an audience that’s equal parts dog and human! I’m interested to see how the dog members of the audience respond to the audience-participation parts of the presentation. Usually, I invite one person and one dog up on stage to demonstrate a study. This time around, I imagine a few more four-legged audience members might volunteer to participate! And I assume they’ll be better than their people at guessing the meaning behind the barks and growls ;) 


And now back to you! The Working Dog Alliance website looks A M A Z I N G! As I mentioned on Facebook, the Research and Legislation links are where it's at. Of course, looking forward to hearing more about the upcoming Australian Working Dog Conference Nov. 4-5 in Sydney. Good stuff!

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22 August 2013

I'm a scientist, (don't!) get me out of here!

Julie Julie Julie!

How awesome was Heather's guest post about her black dog syndrome research in shelters? 

There's something extra fun about hearing about the latest research, straight from the researchers own fingers (well, mouth seemed wrong seeing she typed it?!).

I'm keeping myself busy this week, organising everything ahead of the Working Dog Alliance's website going live (any day now, annnnny daaaaaay!). I'll be sure to put a link up on Facebook and Twitter when it does go live, or you can keep an eye out over at Here's a sneaky peek:

There will be some exciting reveals about the first Australian working dog industry conference (4-5 November in Sydney if you want to come over?) once the website is up - fun times!

Australia's National Science Week 2013 just wrapped up - there were so many things happening and going on - YAY SCIENCE! You should take a look over the website. Being a fan of citizen science, I think you'll really like Explore the Sea Floor - it's like Google Maps for the ocean floor all around Australia and you can help identify everything you see as a citizen scientist. 

Totally amazing!

I'm getting my competitive scientist metaphorical lab coat on next week for Australia's I'm a Scientist, Get me out of here! Which is kind of a weird title, because I quite like being a scientist and think I'd like to stay here, actually. 

It's a science engagement activity with school children aged 10-18, who chat online with a bunch of scientists from different areas and ask questions, then get to vote us out one by one in an idol-style competition. 
The winning scientist will receive $1000 to use for science outreach - if I win, I'm thinking of a global citizen science project that students everywhere can participate in - of course, it will also involve DOGS! Only students from the registered schools can vote, so don't bother trying to stack the odds my way... 

I'm in a Zone with mixed scientific disciplines (there's also a Brain Zone and a Micro Zone in my competition). So I'm up against a wine chemist, an explosive chemist, a computer architect and an instrument scientist who builds bits for telescopes - it's going to be fun! I'm the only female scientist in my zone, so that's interesting - I think I also feel a little bit extra competitive, just because of that! So wish me luck!

Here's a neat 60 sec video about #IAS from the UK version:

I hope you had a fabulous birthday and look forward to hearing about your Summer break - what have you been up to?


Further reading:

Laursen S., Liston C., Thiry H. & Graf J. (2007). What Good Is a Scientist in the Classroom? Participant Outcomes and Program Design Features for a Short-Duration Science Outreach Intervention in K-12 Classrooms, Cell Biology Education, 6 (1) 49-64. DOI:

Ecklund E.H., James S.A., Lincoln A.E. & Amaral L.A.N. (2012). How Academic Biologists and Physicists View Science Outreach, PLoS ONE, 7 (5) e36240. DOI:

Aalbers C.J., Groen J.L. & Sivapalaratnam S. (2010). More outreach for young scientists, Nature, 467 (7314) 401-401. DOI:

© 2013 Mia Cobb
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12 August 2013

Black Dog Syndrome: A Bad Rap?

Hi Mia & Julie –

Firstly, thanks so much for letting me drop a verse in the rap song of your blog! I feel so awesome being featured. It’s like being Lil Wayne or something. Anyway…

I’m just recently back from ISAZ 2013, where I had a most excellent time chatting with other anthrozoologist-y types. 

As you know, I just graduated from the Anthrozoology Master’s Program at Canisius College, so I was uber-excited to have a chance to share my research with colleagues in the field. ISAZ did not disappoint. 

Pauleen Bennett & Heather at ISAZ 2013
Now I get to share with you two and it just gets better and better! :-)

My master’s thesis research project (advised by the oh-so-awesome Christy Hoffman) looked to answer the question: “Does Black Dog Syndrome Exist?

Animal welfare folks are probably familiar with the concept of Black Dog Syndrome (BDS) that Julie introduced last week: it’s the idea that dogs with black coats have a harder time than other dogs getting adopted, and as a result, may face higher rates of euthanasia and longer stays in adoption programs

Popular media - but is it correct?
A lot of popular media articles focus on this concept (like here, here, here and here) but the research results have been mixed: in a study published earlier this year, participants rated an image of a black dog as significantly less agreeable, less conscientious, and less emotionally stable than a yellow dog (Fratkin & Baker, 2013). Yet research into factors influencing shelter dogs’ lengths of stay (LOS) found that LOS was not significantly correlated with coat color (Brown, Davidson, & Zuefle, 2013; Protopopova, Gilmour, Weiss, Shen, & Wynne, 2012).

To dig deeper into the questions of whether potential adopters discriminate against black dogs in a shelter and whether black dog discrimination is reflected in shelter stats, I conducted a two-part research project:

Shelter Visitor Pilot Study – examined interaction between potential adopters and shelter dogs

Shelter Data Analysis Study – investigated relationships between LOS and coat color, age, sex and breed, as well as the impact of these variables on likelihood of euthanasia

And what I found may surprise you.
There was very little evidence to support the concept of Black Dog Syndrome!

From Heather's ISAZ 2013 poster

I know animal shelter workers are going “WHAT!?” right now – I know because I AM a shelter worker – but the truth is, even if many potential adopters come to the shelter with a negative bias toward black dogs, it’s not resulting in crazy-long shelter stays or greater risk of euthanasia for black dogs. In fact, according to analysis of shelter statistics, black dogs were adopted out faster than average at both shelters in my study. Black dogs were also less likely than expected to be euthanized (good news for black dogs, eh?).

When shelter visitors video-recorded their walk through the adoption area, I found that they spent about equal amounts of time looking at every dog, regardless of coat color. Visitors also rarely made specific comments with regards to coat color, although one guy did say: “I like black. Black dogs are cute.” Interactions like petting or feeding dogs also occurred as frequently between visitors and black dogs compared to dogs of other coat colors.

Still, I can’t deny that a few different studies show that people rate images of black dogs more negatively than other colored dogs. That being so, can I really say there’s no such thing as Black Dog Syndrome? Well, I think there’s evidence for a negative bias against black coats when viewing still images of dogs of different coat colors. However, this bias just isn’t impacting the adoption rates or in-person interactions with black shelter dogs. Granted, my video study sample was very small – it was a pilot study, after all – but the shelter stats were quite clear (and my sample there included 16,000+ individual dogs).

So, yes, I’m saying Black Dog Syndrome ain’t no thang. Like, really, it’s not a thing. 

But I certainly am open to the idea of a Black Dog Bias, and I think that’s the next step for this type of research – teasing out whether preconceptions are truly influencing adoption decisions. 

My head’s swimming with ideas about how to do this and if anyone is working/has worked on this kind of research, I’d love to hear from them!

Thank you ladies for giving me the mic.
Now picture me dropping it on the floor without a care. 
Svo. Out.

No really, you two are super RAD. Keep doin’ what you’re doin’! 
And thank you for letting me be a part of it.

Heather Svoboda, MSc
Communications & Development Manager, Cat Adoption Team

Further reading:
Brown W.P., Davidson J.P. & Zuefle M.E. (2013). Effects of Phenotypic Characteristics on the Length of Stay of Dogs at Two No Kill Animal Shelters, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 16 (1) 2-18. DOI:

Fratkin J.L. & Baker S.C. (2013). The Role of Coat Color and Ear Shape on the Perception of Personality in Dogs, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 26 (1) 125-133. DOI:

Protopopova A., Gilmour A.J., Weiss R.H., Shen J.Y. & Wynne C.D.L. (2012). The effects of social training and other factors on adoption success of shelter dogs, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 142 (1-2) 61-68. DOI:

Svoboda, H.J. & Hoffman, C. (2013). A novel empirical test of Black Dog Syndrome. Poster. International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ) Conference. July 18-19, Chicago, USA.

© 2013 Do You Believe in Dog?

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8 August 2013

Is There a Black Dog Syndrome?

Hi Mia,

This was a summer of conferences squared! One of the topics that kept buzzing through my ears was a phenomenon commonly described as “Black Dog Syndrome,” an affliction suffered by dogs who turn black after eating too much licorice. But seriously, as you know, this is the commonly held belief that dark-coated dogs in shelters are less likely to be adopted than other dogs.

A recent proponent of this belief is Amanda Leonard. At the Association of Pet Dog Trainer's 2012 Conference, Leonard gave a talk titled, “The Plight of the Big Black Dogs and Gender Myths.” As her website explain,
"My year at the Washington Humane Society served as the inspiration and field work for a term paper for my very first class at [George Washington University]. That term paper turned into a multi-year project to expose Big Black Dog Syndrome and help shelters find homes for their black dogs (and cats)."

Leonard is not alone in believing in a “Black Dog Syndrome,” but does it really exist? In animal shelters, is there an adopter bias against dogs who are all black? Or maybe there is just a bias against dogs who are big and black, as some have suggested? Or maybe, people have less favorable opinions of black animals when explicitly asked but maybe it doesn't reflect in adoption rates? Maybe there is no bias against black dogs, there are just more of them in the dog population and therefore more in the shelter? Ultimately, how might researchers investigate this idea of a Black Dog Syndrome?

Research on Black Dogs 
There has been lots of research presented on this topic this Summer! At the International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ), Heather Lum, Nicole Nau Kymberly McClellan presented their study, Exploring the “Black Dog” syndrome: How color can influence perceptions of companion animals. In this questionnaire-based study, sixty-five people looked at pictures of animals of different colors and offered opinions on areas like the animals'  friendliness, aggressiveness or adoptability. They found the black dog was rated as least friendly and most aggressive and the lighter colored pets were considered more adoptable (study summary available here).

Also at ISAZ, Heather Svoboda & Christy Hoffman -- from the Canisius Anthrozoology Masters Program -- presented a poster on A novel, empirical test of Black Dog Syndrome. Their study won the ISAZ Conference Poster Contest, and next week Heather will join Do You Believe in Dog? for a guest post to discuss her research. Excellent!

But there was even MORE black dog research this summer! Later in July, at the 50th Animal Behavior Society Conference in Boulder, Colorado, Patricia McConnell, Taylor Jarmes and Keira McIntyre presented The Black Dog Syndrome: Factors influencing difficulty of canine adoptions. (McConnell is the PhD, CAAB we often mention on this blog, and she has been thinking about this topic for quite some time, see her earlier post). Their study on the Black Dog Syndrome had an interesting twist, so let's take a look...

TO INVESTIGATE WHETHER black dogs are less likely to be adopted than other dogs, McConnell and her students looked at the amount of time dogs spent on the adoption floor, as opposed to the amount of time dogs spent in the shelter overall. There could be a myriad of reasons why a dog does or does not make it onto the adoption floor, and coat color is not necessarily one of them. For example, depending on the shelter, a dog might be held back from the adoption floor if it's sick, has behavioral issues, was recently picked up as a stray or if all the runs on the adoption floor are taken. So time spent on the actual adoption floor is an important detail when investigating whether black dogs are bypassed.  

(How much time is spent on the adoption floor? Source)
By examining adoption records and photographs from a shelter in Stoughton, Wisconsin, McConnell and her team determined dog primary and secondary coat colors. This way, they could check whether dogs were in fact black or whether the dog had a more varied coat.

Ultimately, they determined that “coat color did not significantly alter a dog’s days on the adoption floor when analyzing the entire population or when eliminating puppies.” Additionally, the amount of black found in primarily black dogs did not influence how long dogs stayed at the shelter.

Where Are We With Black Dog "Syndrome"?
To date, there doesn’t seem to be much empirical support for the Black Dog Syndrome, but as you might imagine, there are many ways to go about investigating it. For example, within a particular breed, are certain colors preferred over others, and is black more or less desirable? Or, if we were to examine a large population of entirely black dogs of a certain age and size, might the phenomenon apply? Of course, when exploring this topic, data could be collected in many different ways -- from mass data sources that look at adoption rates to reports from prospective adopters. Researchers could even look at peoples'
Newfoundland & Labrador
behavior towards dogs of different colors.

WHAT ABOUT A REGIONAL or cultural Black Dog Syndrome? Kalita McDowell of the Canine Research Unit at Memorial University of Newfoundland explored this question in her research, which she also presented at the 50th Animal Behavior Society Conference. McDowell wondered whether “breeds of dogs native to, and largely celebrated in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Labrador Retriever and Newfoundland, both of which have a dominant black coat colour, will be preferred by the residents of the province and thus contradict the BBDS [Big Black Dog Syndrome].” 

I checked in with McDowell for more details and here's what she had to say: "I found that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians only preferred more black Newfoundlands than other participants, however they did not prefer more black-coated Labrador Retrievers than other participants (everybody preferred black Labs to yellow and chocolates, and yellow more so than chocolates)." Lots to mull over!

Regardless of color, when it comes to dog adoptions, people give a hoot about the way dogs look, which kind of stinks because behavior is very much where it’s at! After all, looks fade, even in dogs ;) (kidding, totally kidding).

Glad y’all are getting some sun and beach and looking forward to next week’s guest post by Heather Svoboda!



More reading
McConnell, P. The Black Dog Syndrome: Fact or Fiction? The Other End of The Leash Blog. (Additional studies on coat color mentioned in this blog post).

Weiss et al., 2012. Why did you choose this pet?: Adopters and pet selection preferences in five animal shelters in the United States. Animals 2, 144–159. (Full article here)
ISAZ 2013 Conference Program
ABS 2013 Conference Program

The Black Dog Syndrome – Fact or Fiction?
The Black Dog Syndrome – Fact or Fiction?
The Black Dog Syndrome – Fact or Fiction?
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2 August 2013

Do You Believe in Dog? One year of believing.

Happy anniversary Julie!

Can you believe we've been exchanging blog posts about canine science for one year already? In some ways it's gone so quickly and in others it's hard to remember when we weren't. I was going to do a highlights kind of post, but decided it's all been so freaking fantastic, that I wouldn't know where to start or stop.

In all ways, it's FABULOUS, and I thank you from the bottom of my everything for answering my first blog post with a big, fat 'YES!'

I attended the 7th National Workshop for the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy this week. It was a busy few days with lots of learning and networking going on, everywhere you looked.

Stand out things you should know about:

AMRRIC do AMAZING work in rural and remote indigenous communities. You can follow them on Facebook, on YouTube and/or sign up for their newsletter. Check out details of their upcoming conference.

After calls for an independent office for animal welfare in Australia, minister Joel Fitzgibbon announced at AAWS2013 he is creating the role of Inspector General for Animal Welfare & Live Exports. This has been met with mixed reactions from the two main groups (primary production and animal advocacy bodies) involved. As we will be having a federal election very soon in Australia, it will be interesting to see what happens on this front in the coming months. The sceptics suggest, "not much".

I'm now taking a week's break with my family in sunny Queensland - much warmer than my home town right now. I hope you are enjoying your Summer. 
What have you been learning at all those conferences?

Thank you once again, for a year of believing in dog with me!

Big hugs,

© 2013 Mia Cobb

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