Dogs & Our Health | Training tips
Is there a doctor or dog in the house?
Canine sense of smell could help diagnose disease
F.Birchman / MSNBC.com
by Molly Masland
June 21, 2004
The next time your dog decides to dive belly first into a pile of rotting fish or writhe in ecstasy in another dog?s feces, keep in mind that this seemingly horrifying urge could one day help save your life.
Dogs have long been used to sniff out explosives and drugs, track criminals and find missing children. Now, researchers are attempting to harness the olfactory powers of canines for use in the field of medicine.
Scientists are training dogs in the hopes that they may one day be able to reliably diagnose certain forms of cancer by smell, and help doctors catch these diseases earlier than conventional diagnostic tools currently allow.
Already dogs are used to warn of epileptic seizures, low blood sugar and heart attacks, although whether they are detecting changes in smell or physical behavior is still unknown. And, while they may not be able to perform CPR or operate a cardiac defibrillator (at least not yet), some canines do know how to call 911.
(N.B. Isabella, a Portuguese Water Spaniel, has been trained to lay down when she detects the scent of cancer in humans. She has been 99% accurate. When her owners have taken her to AKC shows and she has laid down when she wasn't supposed to, the judge was told what Isabella had been trained to do. When they immediately sought cancer screenings with their family doctors, they were indeed found to have early, undetected cancer. So, thank you Isabella! She takes time off from her show schedule to take care of her new babies. (Discovery Channel excerpt.)
'This isn't anything magic'
Much of the research in this area is based on the theory that disease causes subtle chemical changes in the body or alterations in metabolism, which in turn releases a different smell, or chemical marker.
GO AHEAD, TALK TO YOUR DOGS
As many a dog owner will attest, our furry friends are listening. Now, for the doubters, there is scientific proof they understand much of what they hear.
This isn't anything magic, says Dr. Larry Myers, associate professor at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine in Auburn, Ala., who has personally tested the olfactory capabilities of more than 4,000 dogs over the last two decades. ?Physicians have always used their own senses to determine the presence or absence of disease.?
For instance, diabetes was once diagnosed by the smell or taste of a patient?s urine. Certain infections in burn victims can be detected by the smell of a patient?s skin, and bad breath is often a sign of gum disease.
Recent small-scale studies of dogs? ability to detect the chemical markers of cancer, specifically melanoma, have shown promising results. The phenomenon was first briefly reported in 1989 in the British journal, The Lancet and, since then, preliminary evidence has slowly been accumulating that suggests dogs may indeed be able to differentiate between healthy skin cells and cancerous ones.
A sophisticated sense of smell
Work is also under way to determine whether dogs can accurately diagnose prostate cancer. (If the thought of a dog sniffing your private parts sounds just a little too, well, weird, have no fear: The dogs don?t actually smell men?s genitalia directly, they sniff urine samples instead.)
Part of what makes a dog's sense of smell so sophisticated is its ability to smell multiple layers of chemicals, says Myers. Dogs don't detect a single chemical but a combination of them. "If (they were identifying) just a single chemical, medicine might have picked up on it. The dog may be doing something a little better," says Myers.
Surprisingly enough, no breed has a monopoly in the olfactory department; most studies have involved a number of different kinds of dogs. ?There?s this mythology behind the bloodhound, but I?ve tested a miniature poodle that had a sense of smell that was as good as the bloodhound?s,? says Myers. ?There?s enormous variability within the breed and on an individual level.?
The biggest challenge for scientists lies in designing experiments that can accurately determine dogs? success rate in detecting disease and whether or not they perform better than existing diagnostic methods. Implementing rigorous controls has been a major obstacle, as has been finding adequate numbers of willing patients and doctors.
Correctly training the dogs themselves has also posed a difficulty for researchers. ?You?re asking the dog to discriminate something by smell without knowing what the smell is,? says Dr. Jim Walker, director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, whose research on training dogs to detect melanoma will be published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science.
While it?s unlikely a canine will be joining the cast of ER anytime soon, researchers say if dogs do turn out to possess an ability to accurately detect disease, they could make a significant contribution to public health.
?It?s going to be very useful for large-scale screening of populations,? says Myers. ?And it?s certainly going to be effective in third-world countries that don?t have the resources to do sophisticated (laboratory) tests.?
'He's given me my life'
Dogs that diagnose cancer may be a ways away, but some medical pooches are already on the job, warning their owners of epileptic seizures, high blood pressure, heart attacks, migraines and low blood sugar.
Leigh Meyer, of Huntersville, N.C., has suffered from severe epilepsy since she was 17. Now 35, Meyer credits her ability to live independently and take care of her four daughters to her seizure alert dog Cyrano.
?He?s given me my life,? says Meyer. ?He?s offered me a chance to have a little bit of normalcy.?
A giant schnauzer who spends most of his time as a docile couch potato, Cyrano?s mood changes abruptly about 30 minutes before the onset of Meyer's seizures. Suddenly he becomes nervous and antsy, and begins pawing at Meyer and leaning on her. This signal gives her time to stop whatever she?s doing, move away from her children and prepare.
Once the seizure starts, Cyrano stands next to her until the episode is over, usually from two to four minutes. Because Meyer?s seizures are often very violent ? she has broken several fingers, both collar bones and her feet during convulsions ? she relies on Cyrano to keep her children out of the way. And, if a seizure occurs in a public location, she has taught him to herd the children to prevent them from wandering off.
Little research has been done to unravel the mystery behind dogs' ability to warn of a seizure or other medical crisis, but most observers believe it is based on canines' keen observational skills, sense of smell, or a combination of both.
"There would have to be some type of chemical change or physiological change in the body," says Sharon Hermansen, executive director of Canine Seizure Assist Society of North Carolina, and Cyrano's trainer. "People can't tell when (a seizure) is coming on, so there's something the dogs are doing that we can't figure out."
Each pooch chooses its own signals
Whether a dog has been trained to predict seizures, heart attacks or low blood sugar in diabetics, each animal develops its own set of signals to warn its owner. Some will walk in front of a person and refuse to move, others will knock their owner into a chair, while some will simply freeze and stare.
And yes, dogs have even been trained to call 911 on their own in the event of a medical emergency. Given that most telephones aren't made for use by large furry paws, trainers have had to use more dog-friendly devices, such as step lights and pull cords, says Joan Bussard, founder of Amazing Tails Inc., a service and alert dog training program based in Oxford, Pa.
The most difficult part of training alert dogs is not teaching them to warn of a medical crisis ? they can either do this on their own or they can't ? but training owners to recognize their pet's signals, says Bussard.
"Sometimes it's very clear and other times it's very subtle. You have to play a guessing game," says Bussard. "When they learn to talk, we'll be in good shape."
Pets give patients a paw up on recovery
More animals making the rounds at hospitals
By Molly Masland
Updated: 6:34 p.m. ET Sept. 17, 2004
Imagine being laid up in a hospital and, as you're wheeled down the sterile hallway, along strolls a three-foot-tall horse wearing yellow rubber booties and a backpack full of daisies. No, you're not having a morphine-induced hallucination, you haven't died and landed in some kind of surreal Barnum & Bailey heaven. You've just met Lucky Boy, one of the thousands of animals making the rounds at hospitals across the United States.
Fifteen years ago it used to be unusual to see a dog or cat in a hospital, but now even miniature horses like Lucky Boy are lumbering down the corridors. And as animal-assisted therapy continues to grow in popularity, a range of pets worthy of Noah's Ark is turning up in medical centers - everything from pot-bellied pigs, pigmy goats and parrots, to pet chickens, giant rats and llamas.
'Animals motivate people'
The greater presence of animals in health-care settings comes amid increasing evidence that pets are good for us and can play a significant role in patients' recovery. Sometimes known as "pet therapy," animal-assisted therapy and activities have become an important tool for doctors and rehabilitation specialists.
"Animals motivate people to participate in their therapies, brighten patients' days, give them a chance to talk about the animals in their lives, and give them the opportunity to forget that they're in a hospital," says Dianne Bell, coordinator of the Delta Society Pet Partners program, which helps train and register animals and their owners for volunteer positions in health-care settings.
Currently there are more than 8,000 Delta Society Pet Partner teams in the United States and a handful of other countries, says Bell. Each makes an average of three visits per month and is likely to touch the lives of more than 540 people per year. And these figures don't include the hundreds of other volunteer teams registered through different programs.
Exercise and more
At the Alegent Health Immanuel Medical Center in Omaha, Neb., Lucky Boy the miniature horse regularly visits with patients and contributes to the rehabilitation team's efforts. Originally started by Jena Munson, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist at the hospital, the animal-assisted therapy program also incorporates dogs and cats.
Many of the patients that meet with the animals have had spinal-cord injuries, strokes or diseases of the central nervous system. By petting and grooming the pets, they get exercise, improve their fine-motor skills and are able to work on their balance, among other things.
"I look at this type of therapy as one of my tools in my arsenal to maximize a patient's recovery," says Dr. Thomas Franco, medical director at the hospital's Rehabilitation Center. "My goal is to keep the patients interested and stimulated and extending themselves."
The work the animals and their handlers do offers patients much more than an opportunity to move around and stretch their limbs. It can serve as an icebreaker - a chance to draw out people who are emotionally shut down or depressed - or a way to help improve their memory by memorizing the names of different parts of the animal. One patient, Munson recalls, refused to speak with any of the hospital staff members but would happily talk to Lucky Boy.
'A change of pace'
Sometimes just having an animal around opens up an avenue for communication and makes the often cold setting of a hospital seem more normal. For the many farmers and ranchers at the hospital in Omaha, a visiting horse like Lucky Boy - however small - offers an opportunity to reminisce and trade stories about their lives.
"Many people here in the Midwest have a true love for horses, and animals in general," says Munson. "It can do a lot for them emotionally."
The pets offer therapy not only for patients, but for their families, too. Russ Cech of Howells, Neb., visited with Lucky Boy during the horse's trip to the hospital on June 29. His 13-year-old daughter Jackie Cech suffered a spinal-cord injury in a car accident two months ago and is now undergoing rehabilitation after being paralyzed from the waist down. The Cech family has been at the hospital around the clock for weeks in the wake of the ordeal.
"Seeing the horse is a little something different," says Cech. "It's a surprise after sitting here for so long. A change of pace." And, he adds, it's good for his daughter, now confined to a wheelchair, to be able to interact with something at her eye level.
'The right stuff'
Not just any Fido or Fluffy can join the elite ranks of registered animals. Pets and their owners must go through a rigorous evaluation program. Julie Wood, Lucky Boy's owner and founder of Sunrise Equitherapy in Lincoln, Neb., spent weeks training her tiny horse before he could pass the Delta Society evaluation test.
First, he needed to learn to tolerate things like wheelchairs bumping into him, walkers and crutches crashing to the ground behind him, yelling, simultaneous petting by many people, and patients who try to cover his head with a blanket. He also had to get used to regular baths and wearing booties over his hooves, which help keep him from slipping on the hospital's linoleum floors.
Even animals that do pass muster are only registered to work in individualized situations and carefully assigned to locations where they're best suited, says Bell. A more introverted parrot that does better in one-on-one situations, would be placed differently than a gregarious pygmy goat, for instance.
As for Lucky Boy, "he likes a mob scene," says Wood. While the former show horse does fine with individual patients, he clearly prefers a crowd. "He gets into it - hook, line and sinker," she says.
And the crowds clearly love him. Already, patients visiting the hospital have begun calling to schedule their appointments for times when they'll be able to see him, says Munson.
Not for everyone
But, while there are many benefits, animal-assisted therapy is not for everyone. Some people don't like animals; others have allergies or other medical reasons why they can't be around them. In hospitals with visiting pets, patients are carefully screened ahead of time and no one is made to meet with an animal if they don't want to.
This kind of therapy can also be hard on the animals themselves. Just like any worker, they get stressed out if forced to work long hours or under difficult circumstances. According to Delta Society rules, animals must have regular breaks and no visit can last longer than two hours. Handlers are also required to be strong advocates for their pets ? to know when a situation is not going well and recognize when an animal is not having a good day.
"Even though Lucky Boy loves it, it's stressful," says Wood. "He has a sense that he's doing something important. And he knows it."
Dog dials 911 to save owner
Service canine trained to speed-dial phone for help
by Paul T. Erickson / TRI-CITY HERALD
The Associated Press
Updated: 6:43 p.m. ET Oct. 29, 2004
RICHLAND, Wash. - Leana Beasley has faith that a dog is man?s best friend. Faith, a 4-year-old Rottweiler, phoned 911 when Beasley fell out of her wheelchair and barked urgently into the receiver until a dispatcher sent help. Then the service dog unlocked the front door for the police officer.
?I sensed there was a problem on the other end of the 911 call,? said dispatcher Jenny Buchanan. ?The dog was too persistent in barking directly into the phone receiver. I knew she was trying to tell me something.? Faith is trained to summon help by pushing a speed-dial button on the phone with her nose after taking the receiver off the hook, said her owner, Beasley, 45, who suffers grand mal seizures.
Guided by experts at the Assistance Dog Club of Puget Sound, Beasley helped train Faith herself. The day of the fall, Faith ?had been acting very clingy, wanting to be touching me all day long,? Beasley said Thursday.
The dog, whose sensitive nose can detect changes in Beasley?s body chemistry, is trained to alert her owner to impending seizures. But that wasn?t what was happening on Sept. 7, and Faith apparently wasn?t sure how to communicate the problem. During Beasley?s three-week hospital stay, doctors determined her liver was not properly processing her seizure medication.
Go ahead, talk to your dogs
Border collie has 'vocabulary' of 200 words
by Manuela Hartling / Reuters / June 10, 2004
Border collie Rico, who can fetch at least 200 objects by name, retrieves a Pokemon toy June 10 in Berlin. Rico can figure out which objects his owner wants even if he has never heard the word before.
- As many a dog owner will attest, our furry friends are listening. Now, for the doubters, there is scientific proof they understand much of what they hear.
German researchers have found a border collie named Rico who understands more than 200 words and can learn new ones as quickly as many children.
Patti Strand, an American Kennel Club board member, called the report ?good news for those of us who talk to our dogs.?
?Like parents of toddlers, we learned long ago the importance of spelling key words like bath, pill or vet when speaking in front of our dogs,? Strand said. ?Thanks to the researchers who?ve proven that people who talk to their dogs are cutting-edge communicators, not just a bunch of eccentrics.?
Rico can learn the names of unfamiliar toys after just one exposure to the new word-toy combination.
The researchers found that Rico knows the names of dozens of play toys and can find the one called for by his owner. That is a vocabulary size about the same as apes, dolphins and parrots trained to understand words, the researchers say.
Rico can even take the next step, figuring out what a new word means.
Equivalent to toddler
The researchers put several known toys in a room along with one that Rico had not seen before. From a different room, Rico?s owner asked him to fetch a toy, using a name for the toy the dog had never heard.
The border collie, a breed known primarily for its herding ability, was able to go to the room with the toys and, seven times out of 10, bring back the one he had not seen before. The dog seemingly understood that because he knew the names of all the other toys, the new one must be the one with the unfamiliar name.
?Apparently he was able to link the novel word to the novel item based on exclusion learning, either because he knew that the familiar items already had names or because they were not novel,? said the researchers, led by Julia Fischer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.
A month later, he still remembered the name of that new toy three out of six times, even without having seen it since that first test. That is a rate the scientists said was equivalent to that of a 3-year-old.
Rico?s learning ability may indicate that some parts of speech comprehension developed separately from human speech, the scientists said.
?You don?t have to be able to talk to understand a lot,? Fischer said. The team noted that dogs have evolved with humans and have been selected for their ability to respond to the communications of people.
Not unique to humans?
Katrina Kelner, Science?s deputy editor for life sciences, said ?such fast, one-trial learning in dogs is remarkable. This ability suggests that the brain structures that support this kind of learning are not unique to humans and may have formed the evolutionary basis of some of the advanced language abilities of humans." Perhaps, although Paul Bloom of Yale University urges caution.
?Children can understand words used in a range of contexts. Rico?s understanding is manifested in his fetching behavior,? Bloom writes in a commentary, also in Science.
Bloom calls for further experiments to answer several questions: Can Rico learn a word for something other than a small object to be fetched? Can he display knowledge of a word in some way other than fetching? Can he follow an instruction not to fetch something?
Fischer and her colleagues are still working with Rico to see if he can understand requests to put toys in boxes or to bring them to certain people. Rico was born in December 1994 and lives with his owners. He was tested at home.
Funding for this research was provided in part by the German Research Foundation.
Puppy love -- it's better than you think
Pets trigger our 'feel good' hormones, research suggests
by Will Chandler / Anderson Independent-Mail file
It's well known that pets, especially dogs, offer their owners many health benefits. Now scientists say dogs may help us even more than once thought.
By Jane Weaver, April 08, 2004
Those big brown eyes gazing at you with complete adoration. The cool, wet nose nudging bare feet in the early morning. That tireless wagging tail that symbolizes pure joy in your presence.
We know that dogs are dedicated companions that offer unquestioning attachment and acceptance. In the past several years, mounting scientific evidence suggests that they benefit us even beyond eager devotion. Numerous studies have shown that dogs -- one of the earliest domesticated animals -- can help lower blood pressure, ease the loneliness of the elderly in nursing homes, and help children overcome allergies.
Now there's new research from the University of Missouri-Columbia suggesting the hormonal changes that occur when humans and dogs interact could help people cope with depression and certain stress-related disorders. Preliminary results from a study show that a few minutes of stroking our pet dog prompts a release of a number of "feel good" hormones in humans, including serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin.
In addition, petting our pooches results in decreased levels of the primary stress hormone cortisol, the adrenal chemical responsible for regulating appetite and cravings for carbohydrates.
"The notion that serotonin increased with their own dog is a very powerful thing. Could a dog help mediate serotonin levels in order to help depressed patients?" asks Dr. Rebecca Johnson, a nursing professor and associate director at the Center for Animal Wellness, Missouri University College of Veterinary Medicine, who is heading the study with collaborator Richard Meadows.
Why does Spot make us feel better?
Dog owners may not be surprised to hear about the emotional benefits of stroking a beloved pet, but for researchers like Johnson, it's important to understand why Spot makes us feel better.
Therapy dogs have been used to visit nursing homes, calm traumatized children and help ease pain in people undergoing physical rehabilitation, but the field of animal-assisted therapy is still in its infancy, Johnson says. Researchers are trying to determine which types of people would best benefit from being with pet animals and how often they need to interact with them to get results.
? Pet therapy
A new study suggests dogs can boost levels of "feel good" hormones in humans. MSNBC.com's Jane Weaver reports.
"By showing how interacting with pets actually works in the body to help people, we can help animal-assisted therapy become a mainsteam medically-accepted intervention that would be prescribed to patients and, in the long run, be reimbursed by insurance companies," says Johnson. The University of Missouri-Columbia study was funded by The Skeeter Foundation, a group headed by Dr. Jack Stephens, founder of Veterinary Pet Insurance, a nationwide insurer of pet medical coverage.
Johnson's study expanded on research conducted in 1999 by South African scientists who found that 15 minutes of quietly stroking a dog caused hormonal changes that were beneficial to both the dog and the human.
But the South African study was small, involving only 18 people and a few friendly dogs, and didn't test for serotonin, the brain chemical strongly linked with depression. Increased levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin make us more mentally alert, improve sleep and can make us less sensitive to pain.
Comparable to eating chocolate
In the larger Missouri study, 50 dog owners and 50 non-dog owners over the age of 18 sat in a quiet room for 15 to 39 minutes with their own dog, a friendly but strange dog, and a robotic dog. The robotic dog was included because electronic pooches, such as Sony's AIBO, are being studied as a possible resource for the elderly who can't look after a live animal.
Each session involved calm stroking or petting. Researchers checked blood samples of both the humans and dogs at the beginning of each session and monitored their blood pressure every five minutes. The dogs' blood pressure dropped as soon as they were petted. The humans' blood pressure dropped by approximately 10 percent about 15 to 30 minutes after they began petting the animal, at which point blood was again drawn.
Johnson's study found that serotonin levels increased when interacting with the human's own dog, but not with the unfamiliar animal. And serotonin actually decreased when interacting with the robotic dog.
Dr. Alan Beck, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University, says the serotonin changes reveal the "mechanism" of how pets influence our health.
"It shows that there is a physiological mechanism [to relaxing with a pet], that it really is comparable to other things we know cause relaxation, like eating chocolate," says Beck.
Not just learned behavior
In other words, the warm feeling we get from our dogs and other pets isn't just a learned behavior, Beck says, but something that's hard-wired into humans so that the presence of animals can help us stay well and even recover from illnesses.
It's a theory that's been gaining notable scientific support for some time:
In 1995, Erika Friedman at the University of Maryland Hospital conducted a study involving 392 people, which found that heart attack patients with dogs were eight times more likely to be alive a year later than people without dogs.
In 1999, the State University of New York at Buffalo conducted a study involving 24 stock brokers taking medication for high blood pressure. The researchers found that adding a dog or cat to the stock brokers' lives helped stabilize and reduce their stress levels.
In 1999, Swedish researchers reported that children exposed to pets during the first year of life had fewer allergies and less asthma. Recently, separate studies reported that walking a dog contributed to a person's weight loss and that dog walking can be a catalyst for social interaction with other people, a benefit that can help improve our sense of well-being -- or even help us meet a future spouse.
Studies involving other pets
While Johnson doesn't advise patients to throw away their antidepressants and instead get a dog, she says animal therapy could be used as an adjunct to depression treatment.
"It gives us answers about who would be the most likely to benefit from owning a dog or how often someone would need to visit with a dog to get the beneficial effect," she says.
And it's not just dogs that are being studied for their therapeutic power. Currently Beck and other researchers at the Center for the Human-Animal Bond, in conjunction with the National Science Foundation and the University of Washington, are exploring how the "inborn attraction to nature" can help patients with dementia. For instance, people with Alzheimer's disease often suffer from weight-loss problems because they're unable to focus long enough to eat. But when they sit in front of aquariums with brightly colored fish, the elderly patients are able to pay attention long enough to get their meals down.
As scientific research continues to validate the importance of animals to human health, Beck expects to see more community funding for public dog runs, for example, as well as more widespread acceptance of animal care as a legitimate healthcare expense.He also hopes more insurance policies will begin offering coverage for services such as veterinary care for pets of the elderly, and that eventually pet owners will receive insurance discounts similar to the deals given to non-smokers.
Just as we recognize that exercise is important to our health, it's becoming clearer that animals can also improve the quality of our lives, Beck says.
"We still haven't realized that owning a pet isn't just some kind of hobby."
Tunes to rock your dog's world
From Vivaldi to Green Day, music may pacify pets
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Special to MSNBC.com
Updated: 9:25 a.m. ET April 18, 2005
Whenever Green Day?s "Geek Stink Breath" played on the music channel, Jim Snider of Little Hocking, Ohio, would scratch the hind quarters of Oslo, his Norwegian Elkhound, in time to the song. Now, whenever Oslo hears the tune, he finds Snider and presents his backside so he can get a good butt rub.
Stuart Milliken?s dog Kona likes to vocalize to music. He?s especially fond of live music. Milliken, who lives in China, and his friends play recorders and guitars and jolly Italian baroque recorder sonatas are a favorite.
And Marsha Herman of Hamden, Conn., says that when she taught instrumental music, her dogs and cats didn?t mind low-sounding instruments such as trombones, baritones and tubas, but they left the room instantly at the sound of a violin, oboe or saxophone.
Clearly, some dogs associate music with good times or seem to respond to it either positively or negatively, but can it have a therapeutic effect? To paraphrase playwright William Congreve, can music soothe the savage beast? Some pet professionals and musicians believe the answer is yes.
A study led by Deborah Wells at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland demonstrated that classical music calmed dogs, making them rest more and stand up less.
First-hand experience is proof enough for trainer Pam Dennison of Blairstown, N.J. One day she decided to play some rock 'n' roll to loosen up the people in her class on dealing with aggressive dogs. By the end of the session, she realized it had loosened up the dogs as well.
?Everybody was be-boppin around and they forgot to be scared, and so did the dogs,? Dennison says.
Now she often uses music for the same purpose in puppy kindergarten classes or in private sessions if a dog seems unusually nervous. She plays around with different types of music until she figures out what a particular dog likes.
?I have Vivaldi, I have show tunes," she says. "There was one dog that hated classical music, but she really likes Harry Connick Jr. I find that most of the dogs in the aggressive-dog class really like 60?s rock 'n' roll. Any time dogs seem to be nervous, I add music to see if it has a bearing. It usually does.?
When animal behavior therapists are presented with dogs or cats that have separation anxiety, it?s standard for them to recommend that owners play soft music or talk radio when the animal is left alone.
Nicholas Dodman, a professor and program director of the Animal Behavior Department of Clinical Sciences at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in Grafton, Mass., recalls a conversation with a man at his gym who was concerned because his wife was threatening to get rid of their cat, who made a habit of throwing up on the couple?s white carpet. Upon discovering that the cat threw up only when it was left alone, Dodman recommended playing music or the radio to relieve the silence. A few weeks later, Dodman saw the man again and asked about the cat. He said, ?Oh, it?s great. I leave the radio on now and he doesn?t do it anymore,? Dodman says.
That said, Dodman isn?t persuaded that music itself is what?s beneficial. I do think that sounds are very important, he says. I have people make a tape of household sounds that includes people talking, the TV being on in the background, the dishwasher, even some words for the pet ?Hey, what?s up, Ralphie? How are you doing?? Then they play this tape when they?re away and when the door shuts the animal?s not faced with absolute silence but rather the same auditory backdrop it would have when people are there.
Music just for their ears
Nonetheless, animal-loving musicians believe animals respond to music?s rhythms and tones. Some have even created music specifically for pets. Music producer Skip Haynes of Los Angeles put out a CD about dogs just for fun, and it sold so well that he and his partner decided to see if they could go further with the concept. With the assistance of animal communicator Kim Ogden-Avrutik, he tested music and lyrics on more than 200 dogs and produced a CD called "Songs to Make Dogs Happy."
People who?ve bought the CD report that it settles their dogs down on car trips (a Rottweiler named Virgil insists on hearing the CD every time he rides in the car) and helps relieve separation anxiety.
We got an e-mail from a woman whose dog tore her house up every time she left it alone, Haynes says. She got the CD, played it for the dog, and then put it on again before she left and after having set up a video camera. She said the music was for the dog and asked the dog not to rip up the garbage. The result, she sent Haynes a video of the dog simply sitting on the couch for two hours, not ripping up the garbage.
While the upbeat music and vocals of "Songs to Make Dogs Happy" makes dogs and people want to dance, Sue Raimond?s music is at the other end of the scale. She?s a harpist in Mount Laguna, Calif., who has created music to soothe animals - including dogs, cats, birds, elephants, zebras, apes and giraffes - that are anxious or in pain. Whether her recorded music is played for animals in mobile grooming vans, veterinary waiting rooms, surgery recovery rooms or animal shelters, she says the response is favorable.
They were calmer, they weren?t barking, they weren?t meowing, they weren?t frightened," Raimond says. "In shelters, the noise level is decreased, so it?s more restful. And any time you can handle an animal and have the animal be relaxed, it?s easier on the handler and on the animal.
There?s not a lot of specific evidence that harp music works better than other types of music, but Patrick Melese, a veterinary behaviorist in San Diego, says a certain number of animals are affected enough that it?s worth trying.
I have noticed anecdotally that a number of animals seem to calm down more quickly and be more relaxed when I play harp music in the exam room,? he says. ?Most animals, 90 percent, I don?t play it for, but in animals having a lot of difficulty in calming down I think it does help. The best part is that there are no side effects. The worst-case scenario is you own a nice harp CD.
Why does music seem to have an effect on animals? In humans, music has been proven to have physiological benefits that include inducing relaxation by slowing heart and respiratory rates, says Linda Chlan, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing in Minneapolis.
Chlan doesn?t rule out the possibility that music could have similar benefits in animals. Depending on the beat, rhythm, and tone of a piece of music, music affects the body both physiologically and psychologically through the vibrations of the music as the music is processed in the brain, she says. I would anticipate that the vibrations of music would also affect pets, as they have body rhythms that would be affected by vibrations.
Chlan?s two elderly cats seemed to bear out this theory. They preferred Mozart?s soft, light piano music but would hide when she played loud rock songs.
Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning author who has written many articles and more than a dozen books about dogs and cats. She belongs to the Dog Writers Association of America and is past president of the Cat Writers Association. She shares her home in California with three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and one African ringneck parakeet.
Dog genes tell
Genetic study traces family tree
of canines; some ?ancient? breeds
turn out to be of recent origin
The intense gaze of a border collie, known as "eye," is part of the breed's herding behavior. A genetic classification system for dog breeds may allow researchers to identify the genes that underlie such behaviors. This border collie is Tess, owned by genetics researcher Elaine Ostrander of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington in Seattle.
By Kathleen Wren
May 20, 2004 - What makes a dachshund different from a Doberman? A new study sheds light on the genetics underlying the low-slung dachshund, the powerful Doberman and other breeds through history.
By analyzing genetic samples from dogs of many shapes and sizes, a Seattle-based research team has shown how a dog?s genes can reveal its breed. A genetics-based classification system for breeds will allow researchers to study dog genes for diseases that have counterparts in humans and to piece together the evolutionary history of our closest companions.
Such a system may also mean that owners of purebred dogs and mutts alike may soon be able to document which breeds their dogs come from by simply sending a cheek swab or blood sample to a genetics lab.
The researchers found that classifying breeds according to their genetic similarities produced many results similar to traditional groupings but also revealed some unexpected connections. The findings appear in the journal Science, published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.
The rarefied world of dog competitions involves exacting requirements for a purebred?s physical appearance, but the pedigree is the bottom line. A dog can be registered with a certain breed only if both its parents were registered.
This meticulous attention to ancestry has erected ?breed barriers,? ensuring that each breed is a relatively closed genetic pool. The genetic similarities within a breed should be a boon for efforts to find genes associated with disease, behaviors or other traits.
?Each breed is like the human population of a Finland or an Iceland, meaning there have been limitations on what?s gone into gene pool. So there may be 100 heart disease genes in dogs, but just one or two for a German shepherd or a border collie,? said study author Elaine Ostrander of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington.
Understanding human diseases
Ostrander and her colleague Leonid Kruglyak, also of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington, have proposed that dogs can offer unique opportunities for understanding human diseases, including cancer, heart disease and epilepsy, and conditions such as blindness and deafness.
Some of these diseases, such as certain cancers, occur naturally in dogs, whereas they must be induced in mice and rats.
These research efforts will also benefit from the sequencing of the dog genome, which is currently under way. In the meantime, Ostrander, Kruglyak and their colleagues can still study the genetic basis for diseases and other traits in dogs through comparing different breeds.
The Science authors frequented dog shows and other venues where dog owners allowed the researchers to collect cheek swabs and blood samples from their pets.
The researchers then analyzed various ?marker? regions throughout the dogs? genomes. In most every case, they could identify the dog?s breed solely from the variations in its genetic sequences. Identifying a mutt?s multiple breeds is a more complex problem, but Ostrander thinks this will be possible some day.
All in the family
Ostrander?s group used their genetic data to construct an evolutionary tree showing which breeds were most closely related. The tree contained three relatively recent groups and one ancient one.
The oldest group includes dogs whose origins date back to antiquity ? the very oldest ones being from Asia, such as the shar-pei and the chow, and from Africa, such as the basenji. Others, like the Afghan, come from the Middle East, while the Siberian husky and others come from the Arctic. These dogs are also the most genetically similar to wolves.
It may seem surprising that dogs with such different appearances and geographical origins are so closely related, but it?s consistent with one hypothesis that dogs were first domesticated from wolves in Asia. Some researchers have proposed that the early dogs then migrated with nomadic human groups to Africa and the Arctic and around Asia.
Looks can be deceiving
The other breeds outside this group didn?t emerge until the around the 1800s, underscoring the fact that appearances can be deceiving. For example, a small fluffy Shih Tzu, which the authors assigned to the ancient group of Asian dogs, is more closely related to the wolf than a German shepherd is.
The authors? results also turned up a couple of breeds that are in fact much younger than previously thought. The pharaoh hound and the Ibizan hound, for example, are commonly believed to have ancient origins. Not so, according to their genetics. These dogs appear to be ?re-creations? bred more recently from combinations of other breeds.
?There are stories and histories for every breed. It?s interesting to figure out how much of that lore is accurate and what new relationships you can pull out that aren?t necessarily known from the history books,? said Kruglyak.
Genes and behavior
The three more recent breed groups the authors identified from their genetic data generally correspond to the type of work the dogs were bred for. The mastiffs, bulldogs and other bulky dogs in one group typically make good guard dogs. The herding group includes agile dogs like the border collie and the Shetland sheepdog. The third group of dogs includes terriers and a variety of other dogs bred for hunting.
Many of the dogs in each group share certain behavioral traits as well as physical characteristics.
The tenacious herding dogs, for example, have a variety of tricks for controlling a flock, including a steely stare known as ?eye,? nipping at the heels and barking.
?The herding dogs use different behavioral mechanisms to herd, but they all have ingrained the desire to collect and contain and to move herds long distances. They have body strength and stamina, plus the intelligence to be trained quite easily,? said Ostrander.
Ostrander and Kruglyak think that eventually the scientists will be able to identify the genes underlying certain canine behaviors.
?Whatever we say about disease can extend to interesting features of morphology and behavior. Now we have a real formula for grouping breeds together and statistical power for tracking down the genetic basis for these characteristics,? Ostrander said.
� 2004 American Association for the Advancement of Science
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