How my dog rewards me

I do envy people with working dog partners, like those amazing search and rescue dogs who locate lost humans, or those who do scat detection work with conservation researchers. The list is long for the services that dogs’ noses have been put to in helping us. So, it is with a dollop of pride that I want to tell you about my little Terrier Charlie and his uncanny talent for finding his housemate’s poop. He has honed this ability to such a degree that I need to share his latest feat with you.

The Story of a Singular Bond

By Alexandra Horowitz (Scribner)

Dog cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz has a new book, one that has already sparked a lot of interest as well as ruffled a few feathers. In this one, Our Dogs, Ourselves, Horowitz—best known for her first blockbuster, Inside of a Dog —dives into an exploration (and exposé) of how we live with dogs and the contradictions she sees in many of those practices.

Unlike her other work, this book is more philosophical and historical and less specifically scientific. Her spotlight is on us (humans) and the life and culture—and the bond—we have created for ourselves and with our dogs. As Horowitz explains, her intention in writing this book was to explore “the ways we acquire, name, train, raise, treat, talk to, and see our dogs, [which] deserve more attention.”

Read our Q&A with Alexandra Horowitz

She is definitely an astute observer, a talent that she puts to perfect use in her Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, where, as she notes, there is a no-petting, no-playing policy. Instead, the researchers “run behavioral experiments,” which, she admits, might seem “inexcusably rude” to the canine participants, who obviously expect something from the humans hanging around, even those wearing lab coats.

She assumes a similar position in this book. She’s a watcher and note-taker, an assembler and fact-finder, but this time, her focus is on us. While she is definitely intrigued by dogs and attempts to understand them, it is the human element that seems at times to be more mystifying to her.

Chapters include lighter topics, such as “Things People Say to Their Dogs” or “The Perfect Name.” She also bravely pulls out all the stops when she takes on tougher topics, particularly “The Trouble with Breeds,” which shines a light on the “serious trouble with dog breeds today.” In the other supercharged chapter, “Against Sex,” she questions the current approach and methodology of “de-sexing” dogs. No matter how you may feel about those more controversial topics, it is good to keep in mind that Horowitz has an intense admiration for and fascination with dogs, and that influences her efforts to persuade us to revisit and, perhaps, re-evaluate our positions.

Shining a light on our end of the leash is a good thing, and I believe that we owe Horowitz a debt of gratitude for doing so, and for writing this thought-provoking and insightful book. Dog

Issue 99: Fall 2019

UC Davis Anthropologists and Geneticists Traced Dog’s DNA Back 2,000 Years
A team of Greenland sled dogs working in Greenland’s Disko Bay. The ancestors of these dogs arrived with the Inuit to the North American Arctic. (Courtesy/Tatiana Feuerborn)

Inuit sled dogs have changed little since people migrated with them to the North American Arctic across the Bering Strait from Siberia, according to researchers who have examined DNA from the dogs from that time span. The legacy of these Inuit dogs survives today in Arctic sled dogs, making them one of the last remaining descendant populations of indigenous, pre-European dog lineages in the Americas.

The latest research is the result of nearly a decade’s work by University of California, Davis, researchers in anthropology and veterinary genetics, who analyzed the DNA of hundreds of dogs’ ancient skeletal remains to determine that the Inuit dog had significantly different DNA than other Arctic dogs, including malamutes and huskies.

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How Our Best Friends Are Becoming Our Best Medicine

By Maria Goodavage (Dutton)

Doctor Dogs

Her previous books include Soldier Dogs, Top Dog and Secret Service Dogs, so it’s no surprise that New York Times best-selling author Maria Goodavage has now taken up the story of dogs we’ve enlisted to help us with our health.

That dogs are good medicine comes as no surprise to anyone who lives with one. They get us up and out, they make us laugh and they’re excellent company. The “doctor dogs” Goodavage covers in her new book take that medicine to a whole other level of specialty care, however.

To help us monitor our physical, emotional and mental health, dogs have been trained to alert to seizures and diabetic highs and lows; detect cancers; calm children on the autism spectrum; safeguard and stabilize people overcome by debilitating psychiatric conditions; and identify pathogens that can kill us. And this is the short list.

For much of this work, we can thank the canine superpower: olfaction. Researchers are working to narrow down exactly what it is that dogs are picking up when, for example, they alert to a seizure. The ultimate goal is to create a diagnostic device that never gets tired or distracted or has its accuracy thrown off by environmental pollutants.

Goodavage, who traveled thousands of miles and interviewed many individuals to gather information for this book, mixes straightforward science with emotionally rich stories of the effects these dogs have on the lives of those they assist. The result is a hard-to-put-down book, and a reminder that the ancient, hardwired human/canine bond is a gift that keeps on giving.

Read an excerpt below.


Sniffing Out UTIs

A study with exciting potential for practical application in the near future is also a study with one of the best understatements ever: “Sniffing urine is an innate behavior in dogs,” write the authors of a paper on canine detection of urinary tract infections in the journal Open Forum Infectious Diseases.

Anyone who endures daily walks with a dog who stops frequently to read “pee-mail” can attest to this. Yes, sniffing urine is indeed innate. The paper discusses the reasons dogs do this, and amazingly, “to vex the person on the other end of the leash” is not among them. The main reasons the authors give for dogs sniffing urine is identifying other dogs and their notable characteristics, including their fertility and health status.

It turns out that the canine fascination with urine may be a boon for humans. The authors write that dogs are predisposed to “exceptional accuracy in identifying disease in humans by sniffing urine samples.”

The dogs in the study, who were trained to identify urine samples for E. coli and three other types of bacteria (S. aureus, Enterococcus, and Klebsiella) in double-blinded conditions, correctly detected nearly 100 percent of the positive samples. Even when the samples were diluted with distilled water and had very low bacterial counts, the dogs could sniff out the troubled waters. The authors suggest that dogs could provide early detection of urinary tract infections (UTIs).

UTIs are a common health problem, accounting for ten million visits to doctors’ offices every year in the United States. For most patients, they’re easily treated. But for some, especially the elderly and people with limited mobility because of neurological conditions, UTIs can lead to complications. If left untreated, they can rapidly become lethal.

The study suggests that highly trained future service dogs for those with, say, spinal cord injuries could do double duty. They could help their people with mobility, and they could also serve as UTI monitors. Early detection from a best friend who also helps you out of bed, picks up your dropped phone, and helps you get up if you take a tumble? It doesn’t get much better than that.

Adapted from: Doctor Dogs by Maria Goodavage. Copyright © 2019 by Maria Goodavage. Published by arrangement with Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Doctor Dogs by Maria Goodavage

In conversation with a writer whose focus on working dogs has contributed mightily to our understanding of the canine skill set and how it’s harnessed for our benefit.

Bark: In the course of researching Doctor Dogs, did you learn anything that surprised you?

Maria Goodavage: Yes, almost every day! Like when I saw a dog detecting ovarian cancer in a single drop of blood plasma that had been diluted with one drop of saline; the test drop was taken from this mixture. That blew me away, and gave me even more respect for the incredible training that goes into something like this, and for dogs’ phenomenal sense of smell. This dog’s paycheck? She got to choose her favorite from a box of doggy toys!

Study explores differences in dog brains

It isn’t news to anybody that different breeds of dogs were bred for different functions. (Though there is a lot of variation within breeds, difference between breeds are considerable.) Nobody is surprised when a retriever loves to retrieve or a shepherd is a natural at herding. Dogs whose ancestors were bred for guarding, scent hunting, sight hunting or companionship have similarly predictable behavior in many cases. Though temperaments, behavior and cognitive abilities have been explored across breeds and breed groups, the neuroanatamincal (brain structure) basis of these differences has not been as well studied. A new research project investigated the links between brain structure and behavior.

Conan Hero Dog

This week President Trump made an appearance in the White House Rose Garden with Conan, the Belgian Malinois who participated in the special forces raid in Syria that resulted in the death of Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  Conan was “slightly wounded” when Baghdadi killed himself with an explosive in his Syrian compound. Reports are that demand for this rare, excellent working dog breed are soaring due to the hero’s notoriety … no doubt by many who do not understand the demands of these smart-as-a-whip working dogs, and the extraordinary training and active lifestyle that best serves them. For those of you tempted by the allure of purchasing the equivalent of a canine Navy SEAL—resist and adopt a mutt from your local shelter. You both will be better served.

Tips to prevent over excited dog greetings.
Dear Bark: Thanksgiving’s coming and I’m looking forward to hosting the dinner this year. However, I’m a little concerned about the greeting behavior of my high-spirited pups, who tend to bark, jump, lick and generally carry on when someone new comes through the door. Most of my friends and family are dog-friendly and don’t mind the fuss, but a few just don’t like dogs all that much, which I completely understand. In the past, I’ve tried redirection, keeping the dogs confined in another room (this works for the greeting issue, but not the barking), and having a dedicated dog person monitor the dogs. Do you have any other tips?

—Stressed Dad