SPAN Thrift Store is open to the public and looking for donations of adult clothing, household items and tools. SPAN regularly provides $10 spay and neuter clinics for low income households for cats and dogs. Upcoming clinics include: Tuesday, Aug 9th, Albert Soliz Library parking lot, 2820 Jourdan St., Oxnard; Tuesday, Aug 30th , SPAN Thrift Store parking lot, 110 N. Olive St, Ventura. Please call to schedule an appointment (805) 584-3823.
∙ Dogs are capable of learning the instruction “do that again,” and can flexibly access memories of their own recent actions—cognitive abilities they were not known to possess, researchers report.
Teaching a dog to sit or roll over? That’s easy. But what about that cute head tilt that you’ve never seen before, which happened while your phone was out of reach? Now you want a picture.
But how do you get a dog to repeat an action it hasn’t been trained to perform? For dogs taught to “think back” on cue, you just need to ask, the new study shows.
“We found that dogs could be trained to repeat specific actions on cue, and then take what they’d learned and apply it to actions they had never been asked to repeat,” says Allison Scagel, a graduate student in the University at Buffalo psychology department at the time of the research, and corresponding author of the study in the Journal of Comparative Psychology.
“Our findings showed that they were able to apply the concept of repetition to new situations. More generally, we found evidence that dogs are capable of forming abstract concepts.”
Historically, there has been a notion that conscious awareness of past personal experiences is the exclusive domain of humans, but recent research isn’t supporting that conclusion, Scagel says.
“Our study shows that dogs are capable of conceptualization, placing them in an expanding category of other animals that includes bottlenose dolphins and chimpanzees.”
The findings present new flexible training possibilities for dogs, Scagel says.
“Dogs can do more than learn the relationship between a person’s cue and which specific trick they should perform,” she says. “They can understand the concept of repetition: Whatever you just did, do that again. It can apply to anything they do.”
Animals are often tested on their ability to recall things in the external environment they have recently observed, such as objects, sounds, or scents. Memories of actions are different because they’re not outwardly perceivable. Memories are entirely internal; they are purely mental representations of previous personal experiences that can be recalled in ways that might influence what an animal chooses to do in the future.
For this study, the researchers looked at dogs’ memories of their own recently performed actions to determine if they could voluntarily think back to what they had just been doing and reproduce those actions.
Traditional dog training is cue and response. When dogs hear or see a trained cue, they respond with a behavior associated with that cue. For a baseline, the researchers started training the dogs in that fashion, with simple cues like spin in a circle, lie down, or walk around an object.
The dogs then learned a separate repeat cue (the word “again” accompanied by a hand gesture), which instructed them to reproduce the action they had just completed. To assess whether the dogs had actually learned a general concept of repeating recent actions, they were asked to repeat novel actions that they had never been asked to repeat before. Despite never being trained to repeat these actions, the dogs passed this test.
“This is an important step toward a greater understanding of how other species form abstract concepts,” says Scagel. “And we’re learning that humans aren’t that cognitively unique after all.”
Source: University at Buffalo
∙ Cornell researchers have provided the first documentation that dogs’ sense of smell is integrated with their vision and other unique parts of the brain, shedding new light on how dogs experience and navigate the world.
“We’ve never seen this connection between the nose and the occipital lobe, functionally the visual cortex in dogs, in any species,” said Pip Johnson, assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine and senior author of “Extensive Connections of the Canine Olfactory Pathway Revealed by Tractography and Dissection,” published July 11 in the Journal of Neuroscience.
“It makes a ton of sense in dogs,” she said. “When we walk into a room, we primarily use our vision to work out where the door is, who’s in the room, where the table is. Whereas in dogs, this study shows that olfaction is really integrated with vision in terms of how they learn about their environment and orient themselves in it.”
Erica Andrews, a former analyst in Johnson’s lab, is the paper’s first author and currently works in canine aging research.
Johnson and her team performed MRI scans on 23 healthy dogs and used diffusion tensor imaging, an advanced neuroimaging technique, to locate the dog brain’s white matter pathways, the information highways of the brain. They found connections between the olfactory bulb and the limbic system and piriform lobe, where the brain processes memory and emotion, which are similar to those in humans, as well as never-documented connections to the spinal cord and the occipital lobe that are not found in humans.
“It was really consistent,” Johnson said. “And size-wise, these tracts were really dramatic compared to what is described in the human olfactory system, more like what you’d see in our visual systems.”
Tractography, a 3D-modeling process, allowed Johnson and her team to map and virtually dissect the white matter tracts. The findings in the digital images were later confirmed by a co-author and white matter expert at Johns Hopkins University.
Johnson said the research corroborates her clinical experiences with blind dogs, who function remarkably well. “They can still play fetch and navigate their surroundings much better than humans with the same condition,” Johnson said. “Knowing there’s that information freeway going between those two areas could be hugely comforting to owners of dogs with incurable eye diseases.”
Identifying new connections in the brain also opens up new lines of questioning. “To see this variation in the brain allows us to see what’s possible in the mammalian brain and to wonder – maybe we have a vestigial connection between those two areas from when we were more ape-like and scent-oriented, or maybe other species have significant variations that we haven’t explored,” Johnson said.
Johnson plans to examine the olfactory system’s structure in the brains of cats and horses, which aligns with the broader goals of her research program – to leverage the most advanced imaging techniques, used commonly in human clinical research, to better understand animal brain physiology and disease.
Johnson is also part of the Cornell Margaret and Richard Riney Canine Health Center.
∙ An Alaska family had given up hope of finding their blind, elderly golden retriever who wandered away from their home three weeks ago, but a construction crew found Lulu in salmonberry bushes after initially confusing her for a bear.
Lulu was barely alive after being found but she is being nursed back to health and is back home with her family, the Daily Sitka Sentinel reported.
“She means everything,” owner Ted Kubacki said. “I have five daughters and they’re 4 to 13 years old, so they’ve spent every day of their life with that dog.”
The Kubacki family searched for weeks after Lulu wandered off June 18.
“She’s just so helpless, and you kind of imagined that she can’t get real far because she can’t see,” he said.