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


30 June 2016

Italy: The Fifth Canine Science Forum is Here

Hello world!

It’s Mia and Julie, and we’re at the 5th Canine Science Forum in PADOVA, ITALY!! This is our third canine science forum together. Do You Believe in Dog? started in 2012 when we first met in Barcelona, Spain. Two years later we had a great conference in Lincoln, UK, and now we’re in Italy where the coffee is very, very, very good. We also like the canine science, but really, the coffee is fabulous.

What’s the Canine Science Forum?
You know when you come across a headline, “Study finds dogs do X!!” The Canine Science Forum (CSF) is where researchers behind the headlines come together to share and discuss their latest studies and theories about dogs, wolves and related canines. It’s a place to get a pulse on the field -- what’s going on, and what’s to come.

The CSF is also a reminder that when a headline states, “Study finds X…” that's typically an oversimplification of what was actually found. There's a lot of discussion of the nuances of dog behavior and cognition. And science is complicated, but each study brings to the table a piece of the puzzle that is understanding more about the wonderful (and also, the not so wonderful) dogs in our lives.

The conference consists of short talks, plenary talks, and poster sessions (and important espresso coffee shot breaks). Today we're presenting a poster about Do You Believe in Dog? and the importance of communicating our fields' findings to everyone. The blog will continue to be a space where researchers can share the findings of their research, helping it jump over the paywalls and without the stuffy scientific language, to help dogs everywhere. If you're a researcher and you'd like to know more, check out the contributors page!

Out poster about Science Communication!
Email if you want a copy: DoYouBelieveInDog @

The conference began earlier this week on Tuesday and concludes tomorrow (here is the entire program). Anyone can follow all conference-based tweets on Twitter at #CSFPadova as well as @DoUBelieveInDog. We of course want to tell you about talk after talk after talk, but space, time, you get the picture... so here are a few highlights:

Doggie brains
Giorgio Vallortigara began the conference looking at brain asymmetry. The dog’s tail offers a pretty nifty insight into the brain — dogs wag more to the right when seeing an owner (associated with left hemisphere activation which is historically associated with approach-type behaviors), whereas seeing a strange person or strange dog prompts more wagging to the left (i.e., right hemisphere activation typically associated with more retreat behavior). Vallortigara also explored why brain symmetry evolved looking at both benefits to the individual as well as on the population level.

Smelly dogs
Márta Gácsi did not discuss why dog feet sometimes smell like Fritos (maybe next time, Márta!). Instead, Gácsi and colleagues from the Family Dog Project devised a simple, new procedure — that requires no pre-training — to test Natural detection task olfaction in canids, both hand-raised wolves and dogs.

In the study, they placed food in a plastic box with a lid to control the amount of smell released, and then placed the container under a ceramic pot to avoid visual cues. They wondered whether dogs would attend to the location of the hidden food, even when the access to the food was made increasingly difficult (see picture above). They found this was a good way to identify dogs who were both motivated and good at scent detection. Scent breeds and wolves were generally better at finding the food then non-scent breeds and short-nosed dogs. But hey, on an individual level, a Hungarian greyhound and Whippet (non-scent breeds), scored very very high, as did a Boston terrier (short-nosed dog).

A wider view of dog domestication
Friederike Range of the Clever Dog Lab, Messerli - Research Institute University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna and Wolf Science Center reminded us that as dogs entered the human environment, it wasn't initially because they wanted to spend time with us, cuddle all night long, look into our eyes, and follow our gaze and gestures. Dogs entered the human environment for food and to scavenge and exploit our fabulous resources. She reminds researchers that dogs are adapted to the human environment as scavengers and this should be considered in terms of its consequences for dog behavior. Check out the Open Access article, Tracking the evolutionary origins of dog-human cooperation: the "Canine Cooperation Hypothesis" (Range & Virányi, 2015)   

Oxytocin. Don’t oversimplify me
Love? Affection? Come on, Anna Kis of the Family Dog Project would say. It’s way more complicated than that. Kis won the Early Career Scientist Award, and she discussed how oxytocin is being investigated in terms of human-directed social behaviors in dogs. She covered three main areas of research: measuring peripheral oxytocin levels using blood or urine, exploring single nucleotide polymorphisms in regulatory regions of the oxytocin receptor gene, and administering intranasal oxytocin. Julie covered her research on the oxytocin receptor gene in dogs here.

Stay in touch with the conference this week on Twitter at #CSFPadova

And drink a coffee with us!
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