We are so happy to announce that Julie Fulghum has returned to work for us full time. She was originally here the summer of 2008 doing an internship as a part of her veterinary technology program that she completed in 2008 at Wilson College in Pennsylvania. Since completing her program she has worked in Shippensburg and Gettysburg and now we are fortunate to have her here in Frederick. Julie has 5 dogs, 2 cats and a rat. In her spare time she enjoys hiking with her dogs.
If a dog’s eyes appear to be riveted to you and your sandwich the next time you try to enjoy lunch, consider the clever, strategical intent of your rapt viewer. That’s because new research has just demonstrated dogs quietly sneak food when we’re not looking, waiting for the perfect opportunity to bite, steal and nosh.
Before every dog owner and lover reading this comments, “Duh! I knew that already,” the finding is not to be taken lightly. The research, published in the latest issue of Applied Animal Behaviour Science, adds to the growing body of evidence that dogs possess theory of mind, the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others.
In other words, dogs can likely perceive what we see and know, allowing them to take advantage of us when opportunity arises.
Shannon Kundey of Maryland’s Hood College and colleagues tested the phenomenon out in a more structured, scientific way on 20 dogs*. To do this, they gave the dogs the opportunity to take food from one of two containers.
“These containers were located within the proximity of a human gatekeeper who was either looking straight ahead or not looking at the time of choice,” explained the scientists. “One container was silent when food was inserted or removed while the other was noisy.”
The vast majority of the dogs approached the silent container that was being pseudo ignored by the person.
The researchers then adjusted the experiment to see how dogs would react if the food container was noisy yet was still ignored by the nearby “gatekeeper,” or if the dogs weren’t particularly quiet when grabbing the snack.
According to the scientists, the “dogs preferentially attempted to retrieve food silently only when silence was germane to obtaining food unobserved by the human gatekeeper. Interestingly, dogs sourced from a local animal shelter evidenced similar outcomes.”
This latter finding “conflicts with other recent data suggesting that shelter dogs perform more poorly than pet dogs in tasks involving human social cues,” writes Kundey and her team.
Aside from giving some props to shelter dogs, the study suggests that the food nabbing skills aren’t necessarily learned through repeated experience. The sneakiness may have evolved in wolves, the ancestors to dogs, and could therefore have genetic components.
We humans may also have an inborn drive to take food away from our dinner mates when they aren’t looking. Have you ever grabbed a French fry, piece of sushi, or some other small, yet tempting, item when a friend or relative has left the table?
Admittedly, I did that the other night. Sorry, Grace. The fried won-ton on your plate was good.
* Ranee’s Basenji’s, Kylie and Cricket, participated in this study.
The relationship between elderly people, health and pet ownership still isn’t well understood, but some studies have shown potential benefits to seniors who have a furry friend around the house. Salvatore Giaquinto, M.D., of the San Raffaele Pisana Rehabilitation Center in Rome, published a study last year that analyzed more than 4years of research. He found consistent evidence that pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, provides protection against cardiovascular problems in older adults. Other research has shown that owning a pet may help older adults better cope with stressful and traumatic events in their life. (Not all studies support this evidence.) In general, researchers say it’s likely animal companionship could play a role in keeping seniors active and physically healthy and that pets may even be able to help relieve loneliness as well as symptoms of depression and dementia.
Furry first-responders can alert others so epilepsy patients get help faster after a seizure begins. Seizure-response dogs are specially trained pups who live and travel with a person with epilepsy the way a guide dog does with the blind. Experts, such as David Spencer, M.D., a neurologist and specialist in epilepsy at Oregon Health & Science University, and Michael Doherty, M.D., a neurologist at the Swedish Epilepsy Center in Seattle, say these pets improve their owners’ quality of life. Both doctors say response dogs can be trained to get help when a seizure occurs, either by barking to alert family and neighbors, or in some cases by learning how to trigger an alarm that summons human emergency crews. Plus, just having the dogs around seems to make patients feel safer and lowers their stress levels, factors that can actually lower their risk of seizures, according to Dr. Doherty.
New parents often worry whether having a cat or dog around the house will make their baby more prone to allergies, but that shouldn’t be a concern, according to Dennis Ownby, M.D., chief of the Allergy-Immunology Section of the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. Research clearly shows that household pets don’t increase the risk of allergies, he says. In fact, there’s some evidence that pets may actually offer infants allergy protection. It all ties back to what Ownby calls the “hygiene hypothesis”; that super-clean, disinfected modern living ironically makes humans more prone to allergies. Ownby says having a pet may help desensitize babies’ immune systems, making allergic reactions of all types less likely. More research needs to be done, but Ownby says, “The take-home is that they certainly don’t do any harm and that there may actually be some protection.”
A 2005 Australian study found that pet owners appeared to be more active in their communities and were more likely to feel like their neighborhood was friendly and safe. And, as any guy who’s ever gotten a date by taking a pup to the park will tell you, dogs can be smooth operators when it comes to helping their owners interact with strangers. A 2008 study in the journal Anthrozoös found that random people on the street were more likely to give money to men and women, help pick up dropped change and give out their phone numbers if the person making the request was accompanied by a pooch.
Helping the Autistic Relate to Others
People with autism spectrum disorders often have trouble relating to other people, but studies show that animals, whether real or virtual, might be able to help. Dr. Temple Grandin, an animal scientist who herself has autism, has written about how the rhythmic balancing required when riding on horseback can help children with autism be more receptive to learning language. Grandin also says service dogs can help people with autism feel safer and better navigate social situations.
Other researchers have shown how caring for a “virtual” pet can teach autistic children empathy, and numerous studies have found evidence that bonding with a pet can help some people on the autism spectrum become more aware of social surroundings. There’s one catch: These therapies only work in people who aren’t scared of the animals. For instance, Grandin has pointed out that dog barks are painful and frightening to some autistic people if they’re particularly sensitive to sound.
Several studies have shown that dogs can play a role in motivating their owners to be more active, which could lead to improved physical fitness. The key seems to lie in what researchers call “non-exercise walking.” You probably know this activity better as simply “going for a stroll.” In general, it covers any walking that’s not done for transportation or a planned workout.
According to studies like one that was published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity in 2006, dog owners do it more. In fact, the JAPA study found no other type of pet that was linked to increased non-exercise walking and a 2008 Australian study found evidence that getting a dog leads new owners to start walking more. That’s good news for dog lovers. But remember, you only get the benefits if you actually go for the walkies.