Do you believe in dog?

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What happens when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media?

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Igniting Sparks, Surviving Fireworks and Dog Science July!

Hey Julie, 

well, here I am, back in chilly, wintry Melbourne. #SPARCS2014 was an amazing event - such an intense three days with early feedback suggesting over 40,000 people joined in online for canine science, excitement, wonderful researchers and inspiration! 

You've done a great job capturing the essence and feedback of this international conference over at DogSpies on the Scientific American Blog NetworkI'm so pleased someone took photos, or I think I would have convinced myself it was all just a rather lovely dream! 

I loved our time together in Rhode Island and New York - especially the bit where we ate Peter Pan donuts and talked about - actually, all I remember now is the original glazed. Ahhhh. Donnuuuuttttttttttts.

I'm betting we were probably talking about what a crazy month July is shaping up to be - and by crazy, I mean in all the best ways. We've both returned home only to launch into full conference-prep-mode the Canine Science Forum (this year also featuring, for the first time, the Feline Science Forum) July14-17th - people can follow on Twitter @CSFFSF2014 at #CSFFSF2014.

I'm excited that we are both sharing our own research at the conference in the form of oral presentations and posters, so we've both got plenty to prepare. I've enjoyed reading over the newly-released Scientific Programme to see what other topics are being presented! These 30-ish original research presentations represent the latest in our field in the two years since the 3rd CSF in Barcelona (where we met!) as well as the introduction of a new 'Controversies in Canine Science' talks (with topics like 'To what extent does hybrid vigour exist in dogs?'). Talks are sure to ignite more passionate discussions, like those we enjoyed in the panel discussions at SPARCS 2014. 

With just two weeks to go, I'm thinking things might get a little quiet here on the blog as we focus on preparing to share our research. I know I am going to need every spare moment to get organised and travel to the UK where I also get to see my gorgeous sister in law get married before we meet up again in Lincoln. 

I hope everyone who enjoys our blog will keep in touch with our updates on Facebook and Twitter during July.

Perhaps it's a good time to review some posts from our archives? 
So much great canine science discussed over the two years since we launched the Do You Believe in Dog? project. It's actually really fun to reflect on how much we've shared in the course of writing to each other. 

With 4th of July hitting various parts of the world this week, I'd probably recommend the series of posts we've both contributed to about helping our canine companions with fireworks:

I'm going back to drafting my presentation powerpoint for #CSFFSF2014 now Julie - see you in Lincoln, UK soon!


p.s. So great to hear the incredible feedback from our two #SPARCS2014 free ticket giveaway winners:

"Thank you SO MUCH for the ticket to the SPARCS 2014 conference.  It was incredible... it felt life-changing."

Read what we shared at the last Canine Science Forum (2012):

Hecht J. (2013). Physical prompts to anthropomorphism of the domestic dog (Canis familiaris), Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 8 (4) e30. DOI:

Cobb M.; Branson, N.; McGreevy, P. (2013). Advancing the welfare of Australia’s iconic working dogs, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 8 (4) e42-e43. DOI:

 © Mia Cobb | Do You Believe in Dog? 2014

Thursday, 19 June 2014

#SPARCS2014 is Now! You Can Be Here Too!

Get your James Hutson Dog: Origins wares here: society6
Hi World!

It's not often that anyone, anywhere in the world can just join a conference for free. Comic Con is not even that cool. But that's just how dogs roll!

SPARCS, the canine science conference we've been talking about for months, is taking place now, June 20-22, and you can watch the live broadcast for FREE just by going to.

The conference begins at 8:30 AM Eastern Time on Friday, June 20th, and speaker talk times and titles are listed here. Stay with us until 7:00 PM Easter Time on Sunday, June 22.

Last year, over 20,000 people joined the first SPARCS conference from around the world. This year, we're expecting to top those numbers! Our conference reminder post was shared 248 times and reached over 14,000 people in less than 24 hours.  

Do You Believe in Dog? is hosting this year's SPARCS conference, June 20-22, featuring daily themes of Aggression & Conflict, Personality & Temperament and finally Science in Training. Hear from some of the best minds in canine science from the comforts of your own home whether that be the bathroom, couch, kitchen table, we don't care. Your choice.

Access the Free, Live Broadcast between Friday, June 20 and Sunday, June 22 below!
In preparing for the conference, we discovered that not everyone realized that you can access the conference in real time for free. 

No login, just free access by going to the website. It seems too easy, but it's true!

Through the 3-day event, follow the presentations, and join in using #SPARCS2014. You can share your comments and questions on Twitter using: #SPARCS2014 Q

Part of our role as hosts is bringing the online audience into the conversation, so get on Twitter and join in!

Canine Science For All!

Julie & Mia

James Hutson of Bridge8 designed this awesomeness - you can order this design on EVERYTHING from Society6

Monday, 16 June 2014

Why Does My Dog Do THAT??

DYBID? gets to know a #NYC dog
Hi Mia,

Everything is different.

For the past two years I have been writing to you as you play out life in Australia -- “in the future” as I like to say. Others might call it a different time zone. To each their own. Now we’re sitting across from one another in my apartment working on our respective laptops as we prepare for #SPARCS2014.

Your arrival to #NYC has been such a breath of fresh air! Not only do we get to talk about our beloved topics of dog welfare, behavior, cognition, learning, training and everything-under-the sun-dog, but we get to do it while preparing to host an international TED-style canine science conference that anyone in the world can watch from their home!

One of the the things I enjoy so much about dog behavior research in general -- and Do You Believe in Dog? specifically -- is the feeling of community. There is a general perspective that researchers wear white lab coats and hole up in university laboratories muttering to themselves as they putter around with experiments until all hours of the night. While we might mutter to ourselves and putter around, the field of canine science very much has collaborative and collective elements. Researchers regularly meet to discuss methods, approaches and findings, and in recent years, scientists also share their findings with an increasingly interested audience. Science communication has become paramount in the field of canine research, and it would be pretty weird if dog science were all kept hush hush in academic research papers given its application.

For anyone who has ever wondered, “Why Does My Dog Do THAT (fill in the blank with whatever your version of ‘that’ is)," #SPARCS2014, a Free, Live Streaming canine science conference June 20-22, 2014 is for you. 

Since the inception of this blog, just under 2 years ago, we’ve had over 151,000 visitors. We look forward to seeing many of you virtually at #SPARCS2014!
As we countdown to #SPARCS2014, here’s a sample of our preparations (with a side of playing with papier mâché dogs and greeting dogs).

Every dog deserves play!

We Work!

Cats are invited, too



Saturday, 7 June 2014

What the pug is going on?

Hi Julie,

thanks for that awesome list of canine-related citizen science projects that anyone can sink their teeth into. 

I have a question for you: 

What do you see when a pug comes into your field of vision?

I'm asking you because (at the risk of inciting wrath of many) - honestly? I'm really bamboozled by some pedigree breeds and their popularity with so many people. 

How I feel
I'm not hating on pugs or pedigree dogs, and I don't mean any offence to people who hold their love of pugs close to their hearts. I really don't. I appreciate some people are very passionate about breeding certain kinds of dogs. I don't mean them disrespect. I think I just see dogs differently to them.

Pugs do make an excellent example to lay on the table for discussion when we consider inherited health and welfare issues in dog breeds. We could just as easily choose to look at any other breed where physical characteristics have been strongly selected for, like the Dalmatian, Great Dane, British Bulldog, Basset Hound, Dachshund, German Shepherd, Shar Pei, Pekingese, Neapolitan Mastiff... I could go on... but let's take the Pug as a case study today.

So tell me - what do you see?

I see a companion dog who can't really fit into the body we've given it. 

And by 'the body we've given it', I mean that through successive generations of human-dictated breeding that selects for an increasingly shortened muzzle (flat face), round head, big eyes, curly tail and rolls of skin, we've changed the face and body of pugs from this...

Pug circa 1890 (source) this. I'll grant you this is an extreme example, but by golly, the fact that we've produced a dog lacking a defined muzzle like this makes me worry for the health and welfare of the dog. This dog really has no discernible nose or muzzle: 

Dogs should not have a concave face (source)
Does it matter? Well, if you DON'T want a dog that can breathe effectively, maybe not. 

The (in)ability to breathe
Although of course, it kind of makes for a sucky life for the dog. Not being able to breathe or moderate their temperature easily. I don't think many people in chronic respiratory distress report it feeling great. I don't think it's unreasonable to extrapolate that it causes dogs similar discomfort. The compromised breathing of these dogs isn't (as the tags on YouTube might lead some to believe) funny, nor cute, it's a red flag that says 'animal welfare problem'.

Pugs don't snore to be 'cute':

They snore because their airways are compromised.

Sometimes to the point that they can't even sleep without sitting up or having their head elevated in some other way (other examples - just search 'pug snoring' on YouTube - are by resting their head while sitting on the side of a bed/arm rest, etc.):

What stops pugs being able to breathe properly? Their nostrils - or nares - are really closed up (known as 'stenotic nares') compared to other breeds with a more typical muzzle shape.

Pug nostrils (Flickr/e_haya)
Nostrils of another small companion breed

You've given a great outline of stenotic nares and how surgery can be required to open the nostrils sufficiently, to allow adequate air flow, over on your Dog Spies blog.

To better understand brachycephalic airway obstruction syndrome, Let's get some perspective on the how selective breeding has altered skull shape in dogs, especially the brachycephalic (extremely short-nosed) breeds, like pugs: 

Domestic dog skulls (source)

Canid skulls (source)

Now, I understand many people don't see the point of directly comparing a pug and a wolf, they're not the same, I get it. But Julie, you and I both know that pugs are trying to fit almost all the same equipment in terms of brain and eyes and tongue and sensory and breathing bits and pieces inside and around that skull as any domestic dog breed. And it's just not fitting.

Ay ay ay - the eyes (Flickr/audreyjm529)

Pugs are also prone to eye problems because their eyes are usually more prominent (sticking out more) from their reduced skull.  I mean, not only do their eyes protrude to the point that they're highly likely to get grazes and ulcers (to the surface of their eye). Pugs eyes are also prone to not staying in the eye socket. If anyone out there really wants to see, just Google Image 'pug prolapsed eye'. 

Without a muzzle
Of course, when the lower jaw and throat are so short, it can turn basic things like eating and drinking a real challenge. 

Dogs are incredibly adaptable, though - look at how Shrek has modified his behaviour to be able to drink:

Pugs muzzles have vanished faster than their dentition has been able to adapt, so their mouths are often in need of veterinary attention, or modification:
Where do teeth go in this pug's mouth? (source)
From the head to the tail
The double-curled 'screw' tail is, predictably, linked to spinal problems such as hemivertebrae, where malformed vertebrae can result in instability or deformity, putting pressure on the spinal column, causing pain, affecting mobility and sometimes defecation control as well.

Hemivertebrae x-ray
And there's more...
The excessive skin folds around their face causes skin health issues, often requiring daily cleaning. Brachycephalic dogs have brains shown to be rotated differently to other skull types... I could go on. This is not an exhaustive list of the welfare related health issues seen in pugs Julie, but I think what we've covered here is more than enough to ask people to question what is cute and what is funny and what is acceptable to select for when choosing how our companion dogs should look. 

How can people see cute?
I know that pugs have a lot of those things humans perceive as cute. But is it worth it? 
Not for me. I think we should be helping pugs regain their muzzles, make some room for their bodies to fit in again. Recently, I heard from Jemima Harrison of Pedigree Dogs Exposed, that some breeders in Germany are trying. Look at one of their dogs:

What do you think Julie - is it more athletic? Does it have more muzzle? I think it's moving in the right direction. I bet it's an awesome companion animal. 

And isn't that what these guys are supposed to be all about? 

Don't you think we should focus on having healthy, functional dogs in our lives - and if their function is to be our companions - who gives a pug about the angle of their face? So long as they can breathe, eat, drink, exercise and share our lives for a really long time?

I know ALL dogs are likely to have some health problems. Pure breed or cross breed. The difference with pugs is that these physical traits that we know are detrimental to the dogs' wellbeing are being DELIBERATELY selected for, generation after generation.

In a completely different context, someone in Australia recently said "The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept" - I know a lot of breed enthusiasts have a reputation for being defensive. They reportedly assign blame for their breed's inherited disorders away from their own activities. But ignoring these problems - walking past them - isn't helping. It's accepting them. 

I think the scientific evidence against extreme morphology - like that we see in the pug - is overwhelming. We need to do better. We have excellent monitoring tools like VetCompass (UK & Australia) and LIDA (Australia) available to help us track and better understand the health of our dogs. Wouldn't it be great to see positive trends emerging in future scientific papers about pedigree dog health and welfare?

Science has changed the way I see pugs. I don't see cute or funny, I see a dog struggling to get by because of its form. I know that I feel differently to some people about dog breeds. I know I pay more attention to the health, wellbeing and behaviour of dogs, than how they look. 

I guess I just wanted to say to you, Julie - I think it's time to give pugs - and other breeds - a better quality of life. People need to stop selecting for, and exaggerating, features that make dogs' lives less than optimal. I'd like people to have fresh eyes next time they see a pug. Look past the funny and cute and consider the experience of the dog inside.

Let's face it - unlike pug tongues - in that regard, we've got plenty of room to move.

See you when I step off the plane later this week and I promise to have my ranty-pants off by then!


Further reading:

McGreevy P. & Nicholas F. (1999). Some Practical Solutions to Welfare Problems in Dog Breeding, Animal Welfare, 8 (4) 329-341.

Collins L.M., Asher L., Summers J. & McGreevy P. (2011). Getting priorities straight: risk assessment and decision-making in the improvement of inherited disorders in pedigree dogs., Veterinary journal (London, England : 1997), PMID:

Asher L., Diesel G., Summers J.F., McGreevy P.D. & Collins L.M. Inherited defects in pedigree dogs. Part 1: disorders related to breed standards., Veterinary journal (London, England : 1997), PMID:

Summers J.F., Diesel G., Asher L., McGreevy P.D. & Collins L.M. (2010). Inherited defects in pedigree dogs. Part 2: Disorders that are not related to breed standards., The Veterinary Journal , 183 (1) 39-45. PMID: 

McGreevy P. (2007). Breeding for quality of life., Animal Welfare, 16 (Supplement 1) 125-128. 

Roberts T., McGreevy P. & Valenzuela M. (2010). Human induced rotation and reorganization of the brain of domestic dogs., PloS one, PMID:

King, T., Marston, L.C. & Bennett, P.C. (2012). Breeding dogs for beauty and behaviour: Why scientists need to do more to develop valid and reliable behaviour assessments for dogs kept as companions,Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 137 (1-2) 12. DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2011.11.016

White, D. (2013). Screening for hemivertebra in pugs. Veterinary Record173(1), 24-24.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed. Documentary. BBC. Available for purchase here.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed: Three Years On. Documentary. BBC. Available for purchase here.

Top photo attribution: Flickr/jonclegg

© Mia Cobb | Do You Believe in Dog? 2014

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Dogs Are Like Porn: All Over the Internet and Waiting For You

Hi Mia,

I’m coming to you hopped up on 3 cups of coffee, a chocolate chip cookie and a barrel of excitement. This weekend, I’m participating at Science Hack Day: Science in the City, an event in its second year running. The host is Francois Grey (Twitter:@FrancoisGrey) a physicist and the head of Citizen Science at NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress.

This two-day event is built on a simple premise:

Life in the city is complicated, and sometimes the only way to solve an urban problem is with a hack–a science hack, that is.

Science hacks are low-cost, elegant workarounds that create useful scientific projects. Science Hack Day is a two-day event that brings together scientists, designers, developers and innovators who will invent, build and test their projects.

On Saturday morning, thirteen hacks were pitched, and anyone who is interested can drop by to participate in Downtown Brooklyn. I’m surrounded by people either tinkering away on computers or other robotic-looking structures. Others took to the streets to record the sounds of the city or set-up hi-tech trash cans. Tomorrow I have the pleasure of sitting on a panel that will give out awards for the best Science Hacks.

You know exactly what I'm talking about because you were all jazzed after attending  Science Rewired (and covered the experience here), and a while back, I listed some of my favorite #citsci projects, including projects involving laughing babies, otters and clouds. 

For those less familiar with public participation science projects, here’s a short, quick and dirty video describing the wide range of projects that anyone can join. Being involved is not only about participating in research and helping researchers, it's also about learning more about local communities, collecting relevant data (say on air quality in your neighborhood), and in some cases, making new discoveries:

But what about dogs? Much of the canine research in recent years is conducted in academic lab spaces or owner homes, but over the last few years, we’ve seen immense growth in virtual, online projects that require active participation from anyone in the world. As examples, we've previously blogged about Project: Play With Your Dog as well as Poo Power!

Here are online, public participation dog science projects that anyone in the world can join:

C-BARQ (Free)
A questionnaire designed to provide dog owners and professionals with standardized evaluations of canine temperament and behavior. 

A variety of science-based games that Dognition members can sign up for and play with their pup.

Emotional Content of Vocalizations (Free)
What is the emotional content of dog and human vocalizations? Listen and submit your answer (I covered this study on Scientific American, dedicating a lot of words to making fun of Bret Michaels, as is appropriate).

Howl Coder (Free)
The Canid Howl Project is the work of a large number of scientists, trying to understand the range of different vocal behaviours of canids, primarily wolves, dogs, and coyotes. Participants listen to vocalizations and analyze the recordings.

Woof! (Free)
The Woof! experiment explores how people respond to dog barks. The study is trying to better understand how we respond to everyday sounds.

Risk factors for low-appeal shelter dogs (Free) 
This online study investigates how descriptors and physical appearance affect shelter dog length of stay and adoption success. Participants help by tagging images of dogs.

Factors contributing to aggressive impulsivity in the dogs
This is a serious welfare problem for both humans and dogs. PhD student Fernanda Fadel is trying to identify genetic risk factors in dogs which may allow researchers to develop a simple test to identify at-risk individuals. These dogs may need specific management measures to help them live happy and fulfilling lives, at minimal risk to others. Participate by completing a short questionnaire. 

Canine Researchers! Do you have an online, public participation project that we haven't listed here? Email us, and let us know!

Projects often revolve around researchers and participants, and each group can have slightly different needs. 

RESEARCHERS! I imagine that many of our colleagues are looking for study participants. Hooking up with citizen science project aggregators, like those listed below, is a great way to find interested participants. Researchers spend months and months on project design and methods, but recruiting and engaging participants is an entirely different bag of worms. Some of the below websites focus on participant recruitment and engagement. For example, SciStarter has many tools and resources for citizen science projects seeking participants.

PARTICIPANTS! It's not just about dogs, although dogs are very excellent. Many public science projects need help collecting and analyzing data on a wide range of topics. Interested in plants? Interested in birds? Interested in whale vocalizations? There's something for everyone. Take a look below:

“SciStarter is the place to find, join, and contribute to science through recreational activities and citizen science research projects. Our database of citizen science projects enable discovery, organization, and greater participation in citizen science.”
“ supports your research by providing tools and resources that allow you to customize your scientific procedure - all in one location on the internet."

Cornell Lab of Ornithology
"Anyone who watches birds, from backyards to city streets to remote forests, can help researchers better understand birds and their habits."


"Zooniverse contains projects produced, maintained and developed by the Citizen Science Alliance. The member institutions of the CSA work with many academic and other partners around the world to produce projects that use the efforts and ability of volunteers to help scientists and researchers."

Scientific American

An aggregator of many public engagement projects.

Your Wild Life 

Many projects that "explore the biodiversity in our daily lives." I’m pretty psyched about the new Cat Tracker project

These are just a sampling of non-canine projects flying around the Internet. If anyone has contributed to public participation projects, we'd love to hear about your experience.

See you in T minus 2 weeks!!!!


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Preventing dog bites when you don't have a hero cat

Hey Julie!

So much going on I need to take three deep breaths to calm down!

Firstly - we have a winner! Actually - thanks to the awesome crew at SPARCS, we have two! Very excited to meet Marsha P and Kristi M at #SPARCS2014 and want to thank all the excellent people who responded to our giveaway shoutout on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. We hope those of your who weren't successful will consider still coming along or joining us on the livestream broadcast.

Secondly - I loved learning about the differences in UK and US shelter workers perceptions of pit bulls and all the associated bits and pieces that went along with that in our latest guest post by Dr Christy Hoffman. Really, really interesting research and I look forward to the next piece of the puzzle (aka 'new science') in that area.

National Dog Bite Prevention WeekThirdly - it's dog bite prevention week in the USA right now! We can't all own Tara the Hero Cat (and to be fair, as much as she is worthy of her notoriety and 20million+ hits on the viral video showcasing her ninja skills, she didn't actually prevent the bite - although I'm pretty confident she helped prevent it being a whole lot worse). If you somehow missed what on earth I'm talking about - check out this clip of amazing Tara (but a warning, it does show security camera footage of a child being attacked by a dog and the subsequent wounds):

Which brings us back to Dog Bite Prevention Week. We don't have a week like this in Australia, so I did some web trawling to check out what you guys have going on over there. 
The AVMA have put up a whole lot of great information and resources about dog bite prevention, including this neat summary infographic:

Dog Bites by the Numbers

I was really pleased to see this analysis of information about the role of breed in dog bite risk and prevention, which reminded me of this piece on The Conversation by researcher Dr Rachel Casey from Bristol University in the UK, who has been part of a team investigating aggressive behaviour in dogs.

The broader research in this area (see below for references) highlights similarities across Australia, the UK and the US with most serious dog bites occurring to children by a known dog in a familiar area without direct adult supervision at the time of the attack. But of course - as Hero Cat Tara has shown us this week, not all dogs stick to these trends.

It seems that there are many commonalities to serious dog bites that we can all be aware of to help reduce the risk, given that any dog can bite:
  • Supervise children <14yo around dogs, even known dogs
  • Don't try to pat a dog you don't know, even if it is on the other side of a fence
  • Make sure your dog is well socialised and trained in basic commands
  • Keep your dog healthy
  • Teach your children to be mindful and careful of their actions around dogs, especially when the dog is tied up, eating or sleeping
  • If you are threatened by a dog, remain still and calm with your hands balled by your sides - don't run
  • If you are attacked by a dog, curl up in a ball and protect your face
I'm off to reinforce messages of safe dog interacting with my pre-school aged daughter now - hope you have a great week. 

Only one month til #SPARCS2014! Squee!



Further reading:

Meints K. & de Keuster T. (2009). Brief Report: Don't Kiss a Sleeping Dog: The First Assessment of "The Blue Dog" Bite Prevention Program, Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 34 (10) 1084-1090. DOI:

Schalamon J., Ainoedhofer H., Singer G., Petnehazy T., Mayr J., Kiss K. & Höllwarth M.E. (2006) Analysis of dog bites in children who are younger than 17 years., Pediatrics, PMID:  

Keuster T.D., Lamoureux J. & Kahn A. (2006). Epidemiology of dog bites: A Belgian experience of canine behaviour and public health concerns, The Veterinary Journal, 172 (3) 482-487. DOI:  

Langley R.L. (2009). Human Fatalities Resulting From Dog Attacks in the United States, 1979–2005, Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, 20 (1) 19-25. DOI:  

Ozanne-Smith J. (2001)  Dog bite and injury prevention--analysis, critical review, and research agenda, Injury Prevention, 7 (4) 321-326. DOI:

Thompson P. (1997). The public health impact of dog attacks in a major Australian city., The Medical Journal of Australia, 167 (3) 129-132. PMID:  

© Do You Believe in Dog? 2014