New sniffer dog research could “save lives”

A team of scientists has provided the first evidence that dogs can learn to categorise odours and apply this to scents they have never encountered before.

The research reveals how the animals process odour information and is likely to have a profound impact on how we train sniffer dogs.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Lincoln, UK, and funded by the Office of Naval Research and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Global in the US, found that dogs are able to categorise odours on the basis of their common properties. This means that dogs can behave towards new smells from a category in the same way as smells that they already know.

As humans, we do not have to experience the smell of every fish to know that it smells ‘fishy’; instead we use our previous experience of fish and categorise the new smell in the correct way. The new research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, reveals that dogs can do the same.

Researchers separated dogs into two groups and then trained them to respond to 40 different olfactory stimuli – or smells – half of which were accelerant-based. The dogs in the experimental group were trained (through a reward) to offer a behavioural response, for example “sit”, when they were presented with smells which fit a specific category, but to withhold that response for other non-category stimuli. The remaining dogs were trained on the same stimuli but were not rewarded for the categorical variable.

The researchers found that only the dogs in the category group were able to learn the task. Even more significantly, when presented with completely unknown smells, the dogs were able to place them in the correct category and to remember the odours six weeks later.

The researchers concluded that this means that dogs can apply information from previous experience to novel – or new – scents in order to apply an appropriate response.

Dr Anna Wilkinson from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln said: “As humans, we are very good at assigning different things to different categories; for example, we know something is a chair because there are identifiable aspects such as a flat space to sit on, or four legs. Categorising odours works the same way, and we were keen to discover whether dogs would be able to learn those skills.

“This was an extremely hard task for the dogs as the odour stimuli varied in strength, so animals were never trained on exactly the same stimulus. As such, it is even more impressive that the experimental group dogs learned and retained the information.

“These findings add substantially to our understanding of how animals process olfactory information and suggest that use of this method may improve performance of working animals.”

The findings have implications in the field of working dog training as it implies that it may be possible to improve the way we train detection dogs.

Ayodeji Coker, the ONR Global Science Director sponsoring the research, said: “The threats being faced by today’s warfighter are constantly evolving, especially as it pertains to explosives. Developing new capabilities to better train dogs to categorize explosives odours will help save lives.”

 

 

Article reblogged from http://www.lincoln.ac.uk/news/2017/12/1425.asp

PhD in Dog Cognition and Behaviour – Apply Now

See below for an amazing opportunity for a PhD placement in Dog Cognition and Behaviour.

 

Are you interested in carrying out a PhD at our lab (http://www.dogup.it/), in the field of Dog Cognition and Behaviour. 

The University of Padua (Italy) is offering PhD research fellowships dedicated to non-italian candidates. As of now, there are 15 PhD grants available, for PhD courses commencing on October 1st 2016 and ending September 30th 2019. 

Each position will be covered by a fellowship of 13.640 Euro per year (gross value), plus full board and lodging for the three year course. Full details of the call are available here: http://www.unipd.it/en/node/1053

The deadline for the application is April 22nd 2016.

 Our research group (DogUP Lab, run by Prof. Lieta Marinelli and Dr. Paolo Mongillo) is one of the destinations that applicants can choose.

Our current main research topics are: 1) the characterisation of the dog as a model for human conditions characterised by cognitive/behavioural changes, such as senile cognitive decline and ADHD; 2) a deeper understanding on cognitive and behavioural effects of gonadectomy in family dogs; 3) improving the management of dogs in real-life situations as well as in a range of typical canine working activities. More information about our lab can be found at http://www.dogup.it/

We encourage interested applicants to contact Dr. Paolo Mongillo (paolo.mongillo@unipd.it) as soon as they can, to discuss details about a potential PhD project and for any further information they need.

New research shows that Collies can border on the impulsive

bordercollieBorder Collies are on average more impulsive than Labrador Retrievers, according to new research published today (Thursday 10th March 2016).

When comparing working lines – groups within a breed that have been selected to perform a particular task for humans, such as herding sheep – Collies were found to be on average more impulsive than Labradors.

However the research, published in leading academic journal Scientific Reports, also found that there was no significant difference in levels of impulsivity between show lines of the two breeds. Show lines are bred from animals which take part in dog shows and competitions, for example.

The study was undertaken by a group of researchers in the areas of animal behaviour and evolutionary genetics at the University of Lincoln. Data on 1,161 pure bred Border Collies and Labrador Retrievers using the Dog Impulsivity Assessment Scale (DIAS) – a dog owner reported questionnaire composed of 18 questions – was collected to analyse their temperaments.

Fernanda Fadel, an author on the study from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, explained: “Impulsivity can be described as the inability to delay reward gratification, and in dogs this may sometimes relate to problems such as aggressive behaviour. Historically, Border Collies and Labrador Retrievers have been selected for working purposes requiring different levels of impulse control – livestock herding and gundog work respectively.

“Of course, it would be inappropriate to make predictions about an individual dog’s behaviour only based on its breed, but our findings are extremely interesting. They highlight the varying temperaments of different breeds and also point to the impact that breeding for work or breeding for show can have on the personalities of our pets. We also saw a large variation among individuals of the same breed.”

While the researchers found that working Collies were more impulsive than working Labradors, show lines of the two breeds did not significantly differ in terms of impulsivity. They therefore conclude that when appearance rather than behaviour becomes the primary focus for breeders (as in show lines), this may relax selection on behavioural traits and reduce average differences in impulsivity between breeds.

Further studies will now take place to explore these differences and determine whether similar findings are also true for other breeds.

The paper, entitled ‘Differences in Trait Impulsivity Indicate Diversification of Dog Breeds into Working and Show Lines’, is available to read in full online: http://nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/srep22162

Five paid-for Studentships in Life Sciences on offer! Apply now

lsstudent

We’re offering a variety of PhD projects across biological sciences including: Animal Behaviour, Cognition and Welfare, Biomedical Sciences, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Evolution and Ecology, Microbiology, Forensic Anthropology, Biology and Zoology.

Of the ten advertised projects, five applicants, on five projects will be selected for funding, contingent upon the strength of the applicants.

Our Studentships are open to UK, EU and Overseas Students, Tuition Fees are included. Students will get a Stipend/Living allowance of £14,296 per annum. You will start 1st October 2016 and the Studentship will last 36 months.

Applications close 1st April – Apply now to not miss out!

 

Take a look at the projects on offer below.

Click staff names to email

1. Linking phenotypes with genotypes for canine chemosensory perception

Contact

Dr Malgorzata Pilot

mpilot@lincoln.ac.uk

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/mpilot

 

2. Next generation analyses using next-generation DNA sequencing: testing theory for the population genomics of microbes

Contact Dr Matthew Goddard

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/mgoddard

or http://goddardlab.auckland.ac.nz

 

3.  Protein conformational switches

Contact Dr Enrico Ferrari

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/eferrari

 

4. Evaluating resistance mechanisms of the newly discovered antibacterial Texiobactin

Contact Dr Edward Taylor

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/etaylor

 

5. Cell-to-cell communication in the diabetic kidney – keeping the art of conversation alive

Contact Dr Claire Hills

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/chills

 

6. Characterisation of T-cells infiltrating the Type 1 diabetic islet

Contact Dr Michael Christie

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/mchristie

 

7. Using virtual reality to investigate ‘protean’ anti-predator behaviour

Contact Dr Tom Pike

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/tpike

 

8. Identifying genome-wide transcriptional determinants of Alzheimer’s disease progression

Contact Dr Humberto Gutierrez

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/hgutierrez

 

9.  State-dependent ageing and senescence across multiple traits

Contact Dr Carl Soulsbury

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/csoulsbury

 

10.  Genetic basis of Morbillivirus resistance in Mediterranean striped dolphins: a 20 year time series immunogenomic and toxicology analysis, with emphasis on the effect of anthropogenic pollutants

Contact Dr Andre Moura

http://staff.lincoln.ac.uk/amoura

 

Reference: 

Candidates must have a good honours degree, or a relevant Masters degree or equivalent. A minimum IELTS score of 6.0 (or equivalent) will be required, where appropriate.

To apply:

We strongly encourage potential applicants to contact the named main supervisor for each of these to discuss the details of the project and suitability for application before submitting formal expression of interest.

Formal expressions of interest can be made by emailing your CV and a covering letter to the listed supervisor for that project. Please quote Reference: CS2016LS on all correspondence.

 

Dogs really can recognise human emotions

 

dogemotions

As a dog owner you’ve seen them smile, cuddle you when you’re not at your best, mope when you’re not around and pounce around when you’re in the best of moods, but now it’s been scientifically proven: dogs really can recognise emotions in humans.

By combining information from different senses – an ability that has never previously been observed outside of  humans, a new study published from the University of Lincoln reveals.

For the first time, researchers have shown that dogs must form abstract mental representations of positive and negative emotional states, and are not simply displaying learned behaviours when responding to the expressions of people and other dogs.

The findings from a team of animal behaviour experts and psychologists the University of Lincoln, UK, and University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, are published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

The researchers presented 17 domestic dogs with pairings of images and sounds conveying different combinations of positive (happy or playful) and negative (angry or aggressive)  emotional expressions in humans and dogs. These distinct sources of sensory input – photos of facial expressions and audio clips of vocalisations (voices or barks) from unfamiliar  subjects – were played simultaneously to the animals, without any prior training.

The team found the dogs spent significantly longer looking at the facial expressions which matched the emotional state (or valence) of the vocalisation, for both human and canine subjects.

The integration of different types of sensory information in this way indicates that dogs  have mental representations of positive and negative emotional states of others.

Researcher Dr Kun Guo, from the University of Lincoln’s School of Psychology, said: “Previous studies have indicated that dogs can differentiate between human emotions from cues such as facial expressions, but this is not the same as emotional recognition.

“Our study shows that dogs have the ability to integrate two different sources of sensory information into a coherent perception of emotion in both humans and dogs.  To do so requires a system of internal categorisation of emotional states. This cognitive ability has until now only been evidenced in primates and the capacity to do this across species only seen in humans.”

Co-author Professor Daniel Mills, from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, said: “It has been a long-standing debate whether dogs can recognise human emotions. Many dog owners report anecdotally that their pets seem highly sensitive to the moods of human family members.

“However, there is an important difference between associative behaviour, such as learning to respond appropriately  to an angry voice, and recognising a range of very different cues that go together to indicate emotional  arousal in another. Our findings are the first to show that dogs truly recognise emotions in humans and other dogs.

“Importantly, the dogs in our trials received no prior training or period of familiarisation with the subjects in the images or audio. This suggests that dogs’ ability to combine emotional cues may be intrinsic. As a highly social species, such a tool would have been advantageous and the detection of emotion in humans  may even have been selected for over generations of domestication by us.”

 

Study animal behaviour further with the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln