How you doin’?
After thousands of years living in our homes, cats and dogs have gotten pretty good at tuning into human social cues—as good as human babies anyways.
Dogs, with their adorable puppy faces, are easily swayed by the actions of humans. A new study in PLoS ONE shows that dogs will prefer a plate of food preferred by a person, even if that plate has less food on it. Cats, on the other hand, have an especially annoying “solicitation” purr that they deploy when they want something from their owners, much like (though quieter than) a hungry baby that will not stop screaming. Pet owners who fancy themselves parents may actually be onto something.
Please don’t make me eat thallium.
If you’re an average normal person and your dog eats thallium-tainted agar plates from the trash, you’d probably take Rover to the vet. If you’re a vet and your dog eats thallium-tainted agar plates, you start taking notes—and blood and hair samples too.
That’s the backstory to a recent paper published in the Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation. A poor, overly curious one-year-old shepherd mix broke into the laboratory trash and gobbled up 15 agar plates containing thallium. The poisonous compound is used in labs to isolate Mycoplasma fungi because it pretty much kills everything else that could grow on agar. Known as “the poisoner’s poison,” thallium has also been implicated in a number of famous murders and was a favorite of Saddam Hussein. (So if you are a non-scientist with thallium in your trash, it is kind of suspect…)
The dog’s owner, a vet, knew immediately the thallium was bad news. At the onset, the dog refused to eat and lost weight. And then things only got worse over several weeks as she lost control of her muscles, seized, caught pneumonia twice, and lost a third of her fur. She had to be fed through a tube. It took 10 months for her to even bark again.
Man’s best friend can also be man’s best tandem parachuting partner. The Guardian reports that UK forces have been sending Taliban-hunting dogs into Afghanistan.
Dogs have been used previously by American and Austrian paratroopers, which sheds some light on how the British might be using their pups, says Wired:
SAS pooches are trained for High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) jumps, in which parachutes are deployed at a high altitude and long horizontal distance away from a target location in order to allow jumpers to glide in without detection.
“Many furry mammals engage in oscillatory shaking when wet.” Translation: When a dog comes in from the rain, it engages in a body-twisting, jowl-flapping shake that sprays water over the living room. But exactly what kinds of oscillations are required to make the water droplets scatter? Thankfully a team of curious researchers decided to study the physics of that motion.
In the abstract posted on ArXiv, Andrew Dickerson of the Georgia Institute of Technology and some colleagues explain that they attacked the question via high-speed video and fur-particle tracking:
After a presentation on “hydraulic leg extension” in large spiders and another on “aspects of octopedal locomotion,” researchers attending today’s Society for Experimental Biology annual meeting learned how to run like a three-legged dog.
Martin Gross of the University of Jena in Germany presented a project that could one day teach disabled planet-exploring robots how to keep trekking or damaged military robots how to survive the battlefield. Watching how his brother’s dog adapted to losing a leg, Gross was impressed with both the dog’s coping methods, and speed.
“The one with only three legs is still the fastest of all his dogs,” Gross told the BBC.
To answer that question, don’t go comparing their personality traits (the Newfie: famously loyal and sweet, Tiger Woods: um, no comment). Instead, look to the knees.
Newfoundland dogs are prone to cruciate ligament disease, the same knee disorder that has troubled Woods and many other professional athletes–the disease makes dogs and humans more prone to ligament ruptures. Now, researchers at Liverpool University are asking Newfie owners to send in DNA samples from their pets so they can search for genetic factors that predispose dogs to the condition.
According to lead researcher Arabella Baird, the study could have two benefits. If researchers determine which genes put dogs at risk of the condition, they can help breeders create healthier lines of dogs by preventing matings between dogs with the key genes. But the study may also help medical researchers find the comparable genes in humans, The Guardian reports:
Baird added: “The disease in humans tends to occur when stress is put on the ligament, but there have been some preliminary findings that suggest there is a genetic component that could predispose humans to the condition…. Our project will be looking at many genes and the results of our study in dogs will be comparative to the human medical field.”
Discoblog: Have a Martini, Save Your Knees?
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: It’s dogs…it’s dogs in tights (TIGHT tights!)
Discoblog: New Device Aims to Read Your Dog’s Mind—and Broadcast It on Twitter
80beats: Revealed: The Genetic Secret of the Dachshund’s Stubby Legs
80beats: Hairless Dogs Give up the Genetic Secret of Their Bald Glory
There was a time when having a pooch brought simple chores like taking the dog on regular walks, brushing its coat, and occasionally throwing a stick or prying a slipper loose from its clenched jaws. But these days, having a dog can bring strange new responsibilities–like signing the pup up to Twitter.
A new product by toy giant Mattel called “Puppy Tweets” lets the whole universe get a peek into your dog’s daily activities. The colorful little device hangs from your dog’s collar, and when it detects movement or barking it sends a message via wi-fi to your computer. The messages are translated into pre-programmed tweets and get broadcast directly via Twitter. Your pet’s twitter followers can stay up to date with the latest as he wakes, poops, and woofs.
In the recent Pixar movie Up, a group of dogs wear collars that translates their barks into humans words. Such a device is no longer just the stuff of animation: One is about to be, er, unleashed by a Japanese company that claims its collar can give humans a glimpse into Fido’s emotions.
But although the device would certainly be useful—wouldn’t it be helpful to know how your pup is feeling?—most experts are skeptical about whether the collar, called Bowlingual Voice, actually works. ABC reports:
The device includes a microphone worn around a dog’s neck and a separate digital reader that — the company says — translates barks into one of six emotional states: happy, sad, frustrated, threatening, needy or assertive…. [The developers] provided “research and development and consulting as well as aiding speech, acoustics and radio waves” for the Bowlingual Voice’s creation….
“It’s a cute idea,” said [organismic and evolutionary biologist] Kathryn Lord… “But it’s hard to see the world or feel the world like [dogs] do. When we say a dog feels something, it’s probably not exactly that.”
A consensus of experts agrees that while many humans have long yearned for the ability to communicate with animals, the concept is a myth that is both “crude” and “simplistic.” Still, that likely won’t keep pet-lovers from trying…
Discoblog: Looking to Immortalize Your Pet? Now You Can Turn Muffy’s DNA Into a Diamond
Discoblog: Weird Science Roundup: The Pet Survival Edition (Plus a Rap about Isotopes)
Discoblog: Animal Fun Looks a Lot Like Human Fun: Games of Catch and Spa Visits
Image: flickr / TheGiantVermin
If you love your furry pet and can’t envision a world without Fido, Misty or Max, now there’s an alternative to getting it stuffed—or cloned. Just yank some fur from your pet’s hide and send it to DNA2Diamonds, where a team will literally turn your dog’s carbon matter into a wearable diamond.
According to the company’s ad, they remove your pet’s “unique DNA carbon” from a submitted fur sample, then turn it into a diamond seed, which starts the growth of your diamond. Over a few days, more carbon gathers on the seed, forming a man-made diamond. The jewels come in cognac, red and yellow-green, take 70 days or fewer to make, and cost between $2,000 and $18,000.
We know that whales fall in love, horses feel pride, and primates can even become embarrassed and envious. And now it appears that dogs get jealous, too. A new study out of the University of Vienna is the first time scientists have observed and documented envy in a non-primate species, though people who own dogs may have already seen it in action.
The research team asked 14 trained dogs to “shake” in a series of experiments. To test for jealousy, the researchers put the dogs in a room alone, or put them in the company of another familiar dog (either an acquaintance or another dog from the same household). And while the researchers didn’t offer the dogs a bone, they did give one or the other of the dogs either sausage or bread when they wanted to reward the dogs for performing the task. When the hungry dogs realized they were doing the same work but not getting any food in return, they became jealous of their companion, who was getting fed.
In fact, the dogs who were denied treat would eventually stop shaking the researcher’s hand entirely, and would look away from the researcher and even scratch, yawn, and lick their mouths.