Heart-Warming Hype

January 18, 2009 at 9:33 pm 1 comment

The folks at Topps are cashing in on the inaugural feeding frenzy by issuing a first dog redemption card.  The limited edition card entitles the lucky holder to send it in for a card featuring the first dog.

presidential_pup_card

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In another headline from the “this really wasn’t news to dog people” files.   The Telegraph reported this week that:

Researchers have found that when dog owners play with their pets they experience a burst in a hormone linked to infant care.

The hormone, called oxytocin, is also known as the “bonding” and “social” hormone and is involved in romantic love and friendship as well as child care.

Oxytocin also dampens stress, combats depression and breeds trust in humans.

[…]

The biologists Miho Nagasawa and Takefumi Kikusui, of Azuba University in Japan, carried out the research.

Mr Kikusui said that an increase in the hormone level could explain why playing with dogs can lift moods and even improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Not news flash!  Petting and other positive interaction with dogs makes us feel good!  But… do these things feel good to your dog too? 

Apparently they do.  Back in May 2003, J.S.J. Odendaal and R.A. Meintjes of Pretoria’s Life Sciences Institute pubished the results of a study on the neurochemicals of relaxation, pleasure and stress  in people and dogs before and after they behaved affectionately with each other.

Levels of  neurochemicals that indicate pleasure increased in both species after five to 24 minutes of petting.  Human cortisol levels dropped as interaction continued but canine cortisol remained the same, possibly indicating that dogs find us more exciting than we do them.

So — for those who need it, we now have scientific evidence that we love dogs and they love us back.

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We love dogs — but if you don’t want to take our word for it you can find out more next month on a new episode of PBS’s Nature series. From the PBS pressroom:

Nature: Why We Love Cats and Dogs premieres nationally Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).

“This is a different kind of Nature film,” says Fred Kaufman, THIRTEEN’s Executive Producer of Nature. “We combine a more verite style of film-making and in-studio pet owner interviews, and the result is a gamut of stories that are insightful, heartwarming and funny.”

If we translate that from marketing hype into common parlance it means that they’ll use lots of sensational editing and camerawork to distract us from the lack of real content and put a provocative spin on any sensational bits they manage to turn up.

The show will feature a made for TV mix of real experts and the media mouthpieces including Sarah Wilson, Marc Bekoff, Nicholas Dodman and Emily Weiss.

Why We Love Cats and Dogs premieres Sunday, February 15 on PBS (check local listings).

 catanddog

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Is it love, or just shallow physical attraction?   The Telegraph reports that we may be turning our canine companions into furry parodies of vapid supermodels:

Scientists in Sweden have found strong evidence that breeding for appearance has led to a decline in intelligence.

Report author Kenth Svartberg, an ethologist from Stockholm University, said the changes had happened over the course of just a few generations.

“Modern breeding practices are affecting the behaviour and mental abilities of pedigree breeds as well as their physical features,” he said.

Dogs are now selected for breeding because they have the silkiest coat rather than the keenest sense of smell or quickest reactions.

Concentrating on these outward aspects has been dictated by the requirements set by dog shows, and the needs of modern pet owners.

[…]

Dr Svartberg tested 13,000 dogs on characteristics such as sociability and curiosity to help him rate 31 different breeds.

He found that those bred for appearance, and especially for shows, displayed reduced levels of all these qualities. He also found that attractive appearance was often linked with introversion and a boring personality.

dumb-dog-crossing

The rift between fanciers of bench- and show-bred dogs has existed since conformation dog shows became popular in the mid-nineteenth century.  The rift has caused many breeds to be divided into distinct working and show types.  And as those of us who ‘fancy’ working dogs have long suspected, we now have evidence that these rifts have not benefited our dogs. 

An article by David Hancock  titled The Way Breeding Standards Used to Be first appeared in the The Countryman’s Weekly back in July 14, 200o.  Our friend Pat the Terrierman posted excerpts from the article on his blog including this apropos bit:

Dog breeders have a huge moral responsibility, magnified by the increasing loss of role for breeds which once worked. Function once decided design. Now the whim of man all too often distorts a design originally drawn up by knowledgeable people who worked their dogs.

Pastoral breeds were never intended to possess coats, which would hamper them at work. Working Bloodhounds do not display the degree of wrinkle seen in the breed in the show rings of today. Working Bassets, or English Bassets as they have now become known, do not display the over-long backs and under-length legs found in their show ring counterparts.

I’d love to get my hands on a copy of Svartberg’s paper to see how it may have been twisted by the media.  If anyone out there has better luck finding it than I did, drop me a line.

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Entry filed under: behavior science, dogs, science. Tags: , , .

House of Horrors Another Nutty Recall

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Jill  |  January 18, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    So, since we know that the canine genome is extremely diverse, and unless someone is breeding toward a definitive breed standard (a multiplicity of features from ear set to temperament to eye color), they will invariably wind up breeding away from it (conversely, if they are not breeding to avoid undesirable traits, they wind up breeding toward them)

    Then how many people who are actually breeding dogs know what they’re selecting for? How many have ever even heard of Father Mendel? Even after “fixing” the breed’s traits, breeders must still continue to refine and select or the breed will drift…

    Around here, the folks think breeds are brands, like Kleenex or Microsoft.

    I despair.

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