Posts Tagged ‘dog news’

Dogs to get their own computers

“I wish Bruce could talk,” is a phrase frequently uttered by Michael’s mum. “Oh but he can,” I assure her, “in his own way.”

And, really, dogs seem to have the ability to communicate with their owners just as eloquently as – and sometimes more politely than – most people. Over time, as pet parents we learn their behaviours and begin to understand what they want.

As our understanding grows, we put words to each action. Where at one time we may have scratched our heads perplexed as our dog stared at us with an unknown question, now we can engage in two-way communication, asking our dog if he needs “water” or “the toilet” or “a cuddle” or if he’s “ready for bed”. For us, the confirmation that we’ve understood Bruce’s question is a little hoppity skip or, if he’s sitting on the sofa, a leap to the floor. It’s a useful system for all of us.

The famous head tilt

The famous head tilt

Dogs have been found to be as intelligent as the average two-year-old child. The cleverest dogs, with the border collie at the top of the tree, can understand up to 250 words and gestures and perform simple mathematical equations. In my opinion, effective communication really helps to build a strong bond between dog and human.

Scientists are now in the process of designing computers that dogs can use to operate household appliances and even communicate with their owners. Researchers at the Open University have been awarded a £15,000 grant by Dogs Trust to develop so-called “smart kennels” with computer technology installed. If a dog needs to raise an alarm, he or she will be able to push a button and call the emergency services.

The computer is primarily being developed for dogs belonging to people with disabilities, to make it easier for assistance dogs to turn on lights, washing machines and other household appliances – even answer the telephone. Rather than using a mouse and a keyboard, the computers incorporate large bright buttons and touch screen technology. Objects that can be picked up and pulled or shaken also feature.

Are you talking to me?

Are you talking to me?

Dr Clara Mancini, head of the animal-computer interaction team at Open University, said, “We are trying to develop something analogous to human computer interaction for animals. It is about giving them more control and getting them to do things better. Alert dogs for example are already used to summon help if their owner gets into difficulty, but we are trying to make it easier for them. If you have technology that makes it easier for dogs to dial 999 and alert the emergency services then it means more dogs can do it.

“Looking to the future, we can’t really tell how far we can go. We have a lot of preconceptions about animals and what they are not capable of doing. It is possible that we can invent a computer system that allows animals, if not to send emails, but understand they can engage in conversation with a human on the other side of an internet link.”

So there you go, mum-in-law. Perhaps one day Bruce won’t simply be nuzzling your knee in the hope you’ll take him for a walk. He’ll be sending you emails demanding it.

Words: Aislinn Kelly

Photographs: Aislinn Kelly and Michael Thompson

All photographs are copyright of The Mighty Pooch dog photographers: The Mighty Pooch is a specialist dog photographers based in Yorkshire but happy to travel for photoshoots. Go behind the scenes at some of our shoots here.

Dogs can help cure back pain

A new study has suggested that simple walking is as effective at easing lower back pain as muscle strengthening programmes that incorporate specialist equipment, meaning those of us with dogs should not put off the walkies with the excuse of a painful back but should, instead, get out there and walk that pain away.

Taking your dog for a walk can lead to a healthier back and heart Photograph copyright of The Mighty Pooch

Taking your dog for a walk can lead to a healthier back and heart
Photograph copyright of The Mighty Pooch

The study split 52 patients with lower back pain into two groups, with one group completing a muscle strengthening programme and the other group participating in an aerobic walking programme.

Both groups improved significantly in all areas, demonstrating that walking was “as effective as treatment that could have been received in the clinic”, according to Dr Michal Katz-Leurer of Tel Aviv University’s Stanley Steyer School of Health Professions at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, who lead the research.

This news comes as the American Heart Association reveals that dog owners have healthier hearts than people without pets, concluding that dog ownership “is probably associated with a decreased risk of heart disease”.

Dr Glen Levine of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, who led the study, added, “A person may take better care of themselves if they have a good bond with a pet and feel better about themselves and are more motivated to live longer.”

However, he also warned, “The primary reason you should adopt or rescue or buy a pet is to give that pet a loving home and to derive enjoyment from the relationship. We don’t want people to go out and adopt a dog or a cat and then sit on the couch eating potato chips and smoking a cigarette and assume they are now going to live longer.”

Quite! Now then, where’s Bruce’s lead?

Diet can improve dogs’ sniffing skills

Detection dogs’ smelling skills can be improved by cutting protein and adding fats into their diet, according to new research carried out at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Auburn University. The research could help to improve the efficacy of detection dogs who sniff out weapons, drugs and missing people.


The researchers, led by Joseph Wakshlag, claim that cutting protein and adding fats appears to help dogs return to lower body temperatures after exercise. This reduces panting which, in turn, improves detection dogs’ sniffing capabilities.

Wakshlag said, “If you’re a dog, digesting protein raises body temperature, so the longer your body temperature is up, the longer you keep panting and the harder it is to smell well.

Who knows what your dog could be capable of?Image copyright of The Mighty Pooch dog photographers

Who knows what your dog could be capable of?
Image copyright of The Mighty Pooch dog photographers

“Our study shifts the paradigm of what ‘high-performance’ diet can mean for dogs. It depends on what you want your dog to do. A sled dog or greyhound may need more protein to keep going. But detection dogs tend to exercise in shorter bursts and need to recover quickly and smell well. For that, less protein and more fat could help.”

During an 18-month study, Wakshlag rotated 17 dogs through three diets: a high-end performance diet, regular adult dog food, and regular adult dog food diluted with corn oil. He found that dogs eating the food enhanced with corn oil returned to a normal body temperature most quickly after exercise and were better able to detect smokeless powder, ammonia nitrate and TNT.

“Corn oil has lots of polyunsaturated fats, similar to what you’d find in a lot of nuts and common grocery store seed oils,” said Wakshlag. “It could be that fat somehow improves nose-signalling structures or reduces body temperature or both. But lowering protein also played a part in improving olfaction.”

The study was funded by a $1 million grant from the US Department of Justice and is the first to be carried out in the only detection dog research facility in the world, located in Alabama USA, which provides police and military forces with expert detection dogs.

The news comes as the Medical Detection Dogs charity continues research into training dogs to sniff out cancer. The CEO of Medical Detection Dogs, Dr Claire Guest, has first-hand experience of this, as one of the dogs she was training appeared to detect the disease in her. She was subsequently found to have an early stage breast tumour and is now in remission.

She said, “We started to wonder that if dogs were finding [cancer] by chance, then perhaps we could actually train dogs to do this reliably.” She is currently looking into the possibility that trained dogs could recognise cancer from breath tests.

Dr Guest added, “Everybody has a personal story [about cancer] and we know that anything that can assist in our fight against cancer is worthwhile.”

We’ll second that!

Words: Aislinn Kelly

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