November 25, 2008

Animal behaviour and welfare: Dogs Part 2


Dog’s senses: Diet: Communication

By Dr Clive Dalton

  • The position of a dog's eyes on its head varies and this has important implications for its visual perception of things in its environment.
  • Generally dogs have 70% more peripheral and 20% narrower binocular vision than humans.
  • Hence dogs are more aware of movement at the side of their heads and they need to move their heads more in order to focus.
  • Dogs have an ability to see movement 10 times better than humans. We use this in training with hand signals to reinforce voice commands.
  • Slight movement of your hand or body can over stimulate a dog - so watch for raised arm that the dog may see as threat.
  • Visual discrimination of detail and silhouette is not as good as the human.
  • Dogs have poor colour reception and inferior awareness of detail.
  • Dogs can clearly differentiate between levels of brightness.
  • Hearing ranges from 20,000 to 50,000 cycles per second (cps). Humans peaks at 20,000 cps. So dogs can hear ultrasound.
  • As a general rule, dogs' hearing is about four times better than humans so a dog can hear sounds at 25m that man can only hear at 6m.
  • There are silent dog whistles used by some handlers. We hear this sound they make as a low hiss.
  • Visual clues are useful to indicate to the dog where a sound came from.
  • Dogs don't understand English -they hear sounds. So vary the sounds you use to command a dog.
  • There is no need to shout at a dog! Use loud sounds for reprimands and soft for approval.
  • Dogs respond to a "happy voice" when given with other positive signals.
  • Keep auditory signals simple.
  • The dog has a highly developed sense of smell - 1000 times better than humans.
  • Dogs can smell a fingerprint on glass up to 6 weeks after placement.
  • Dogs have a Vomeronasal Organ (VNO) near the hard palate that provides a third chemical sense so it's almost tasting a smell as well as smelling it.
  • The dog does not show a Flehmen response like the cat.
  • The dogs acute sense of smell is a major cause of "human" problems.
  • Smelling bitches on heat at long distances.
  • Finding carrion to eat and roll in.
  • Smelling strangers as a threat and biting.
  • A new theory says the dog's great ability to smell was a reason for "joint evolution". Man lost his sense of smell because the dog as part of his tribe, did the smelling for him.
  • Smell is a vitally important part of dog communication when meeting. Dogs greet each other first nose-to-nose (naso-naso).
  • Remember the importance of smell when dogs meet humans - hold the back of your hand out to a strange dog to smell.
  • The dog's anal glands hold its complete CV. So after the naso-naso greeting, dogs proceed to smell each other's anal region (naso-ano).
  • The early life of a dog is one of touch and smell as it is born blind and with poor hearing.
  • Hence touch is an enormous bonding feature among dogs and is one of the highest rewards you can give a dog.
  • It is the key to bonding with humans during training and you see it with huntaways at dog trials - leaning on their handler for reassurance waiting the start.
  • Farm dog trainers don't need a pocket full of treats - they use touch and voice tone to communicate their messages.
Where to touch an unfamiliar dog
The top of the dog - head, scruff, back and tail are all "dominant" areas. It's where other dogs grab in fights. Until you know the dog, touch it on low-down areas.
  • Don't grab the scruff.
  • Don't pat the top of its head.
  • Don't pat its shoulders.
  • Don't touch its tail.
  • Pat its chest and under its jaw
  • Avoid eye contact at the same time.
  • Dogs eat only during the day unlike cats that eat both day and night.
  • In operant research when dogs were given a free choice of diet, they preferred warm sweet sloppy foods, which is not surprising because after a kill, the wild dog first eats the guts and stomach contents.
  • Wild dogs also prefer variety in their diet and are omnivores (eating both animal and plant foods).
  • Wild dogs will usually eat every second day so why do many pet dogs eat every time the owner eats leading to obesity? It seems very hard for them to refuse feeding a begging dog.
  • What do we give our dogs? We feed dry biscuits from the bag and cold dog roll from the fridge.
  • But we must realise that humans purchase dog diets. Research shows we use human standards about what we think will taste nice and be wholesome for the dog.
  • Farm dogs have been underfed for generations on frozen mutton and scraps which are deficient in some important B complex vitamins.
  • Biscuits are widely promoted for their convenience as a feed and as "complete diet".
  • Working dogs are athletes and need high energy diets. Pet dogs do little and many really need starving - but don't suggest that to the owner of an obese pet!
  • The principles of nutrition are simple - you feed the dog to meet its nutritional needs.
  • Note the difference between "wants and needs", as dogs will only stop eating when they are full. They don't know when their nutritional needs have been met
Dog communication
  • Being a pack animal, communication is vital for survival and dogs use a very wide range of body and verbal signals to communicate.
  • Examples are body posture/tail/eyes/hair/teeth/yawn/trembling
  • You will recognise the welcome "smile" when a low ranking dog meets greets you. They turn their upper lip up to expose their teeth.
  • The wagging tail is not always a sign of happiness - it shows that the dog is prepared to interact with the stimulus - good or bad.
  • Eye contact is important to show dominance. Don't eyeball an aggressive dog.
  • Dogs need their tails to give a wide range of signals. So why are some breeds docked and are the human reasons justified?
  • The Kennel Club approves the docking of 45 breeds of purebred dogs that are customarily docked.
  • Smell is vitally important to dogs. But sniffing can get out of hand and become a problem for humans.
  • Dogs love rolling in carrion and faeces to send messages to other dogs - and the dogs think their owners as pack members will appreciate it too!
  • Remember the importance of the anal gland in indicating the dog's status.
  • Territorial scent marking is vitally important in dogs, especially in males to denote territory and warn off strangers.

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