companion animal research

I was fortunate enough to get to interview my former lab mate, dog expert and all around awesome person, Amy Cook. She received her PhD from UC Berkeley studying dog cognition and the relationship between dogs and their humans. You can read my profile of her and her research here, at the Berkeley Science Review.

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ALL DOGS! What the...?

Paedomorphic Facial Expressions Give Dogs a Selective Advantage

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It's no big surprise that we prefer animals with baby-like features: that is what CUTE is all about! Konrad Lorenz called it "baby schema" (Kindchenschema). This study used adoption from a shelter as a proxy for active selection (hmmm...does preference equal evolution?) and looked at how often dogs "raised their eyebrows", which the authors claimed made the dogs look more "paedomorphic" (juvenile).  Two dogs were removed from the study because they took too long to get adopted (another hmmm...), and the results suggested that adoption rates for the remaining 27 dogs was related to how often they raised their eyebrows; more eyebrow raises = faster adoption. Read it for yourself here, yay OPEN ACCESS!

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It's Friday again already? Here's what I liked this week!

5000 years of love: Cats became domesticated earlier than we thought

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We know humans and cats hung out together at least 9500 years ago. And we have evidence of domesticated cats dating 4000 years ago. We didn't know much about what happened between these two time periods until now. Scientists have found evidence for co-existence (cats living on human food) and possible domestication in China 5000 years ago.  Read more here or here

Social learning in chimps

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A study in Zambia found differences between chimp colonies in how they open hard-shelled fruits, demonstrating support for both social learning and culture. If you can, read the source article, or try this article (Some articles had absurd statements, like, "further strengthens the fact that chimps are our closest relatives!" - uh, no that's proven by genetics...).

Dogs recognize familiar faces from images

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This study looked at both research dogs and pet dogs in Helsinki, presenting them with images (both upright and inverted) of humans and dogs (familiar and strangers), then used eye-tracking technology to measure where they looked and for how long. Dogs like to look at pictures of other dogs, and they look longer of images of both familiar dogs and humans, and they particularly spend more time looking in the eye area. Original article here, news write up here.




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How do our cats recognize us (if they do!)? Most likely, they use multiple cues – our appearance, our scent, our mannerisms, and likely, our voices. Some scientists recently examined whether cats can recognize us by one cue alone – the sound of our voices calling their names (Saito & Shinozuka, 2013).

While this study came out in July of 2013, it was recently picked up by Reddit, and so it’s back in the headlines!!! The study has generated A LOT of attention, and some misleading (or just ridiculous) headlines, such as:

  • TIME magazine: Cats Know You’re Talking to Them But Couldn’t Care Less
  • iScience: Research Shows Cats Are Rude; Can Recognize Their Owners Voice But Choose Not To Respond. Cat owners love them anyway.
  • Huffington Post: Your Cat Really Doesn't Care What You Have To Say, Study Shows
  • The Daily Mail: Your cat is only PRETENDING to ignore you: How cats can understand their owners' voices but play dumb as a form of survival
  • Hartz Pet News: Cats showcase facial and voice recognition of their owners
  • Animal Health Foundation: Study: Cats may not be as aloof as they seem
  • Jezebel: Asshole Cats Acknowledge Your Existence in Imperceptible Ways

Note that most of these headlines play into the stereotype of cats as aloof, independent and well, just jerky (something I think most cat owners would argue is not exactly…errr…accurate). And then one headline actually has the opposite interpretation – cats aren’t that aloof after all! So what exactly did the researchers do and find? Do you agree with their conclusions? Or those of the media? ...continue reading