How do dogs communicate with humans? What are they thinking and feeling? How does the canine brain work? These are some of the many questions about dog behavior that science is beginning to answer. Some of Dr. Wan’s recent research findings are discussed below, along with relevant resources. Follow on Facebook and Twitter to receive news about the latest studies on dog behavior, cognition, genetics, treatment of behavior problems, and other applied topics.

Does Experience Matter When Interpreting Dog Behavior?

Wan, M., Bolger, N., & Champagne, F. A. (2012). Human perception of fear in dogs varies according to experience with dogs. PLoS ONE, 7(12), e51775.

Abstract: To investigate the role of experience in humans’ perception of emotion using canine visual signals, we asked adults with various levels of dog experience to interpret the emotions of dogs displayed in videos. The video stimuli had been pre-categorized by an expert panel of dog behavior professionals as showing examples of happy or fearful dog behavior. In a sample of 2,163 participants, the level of dog experience strongly predicted identification of fearful, but not of happy, emotional examples. The probability of selecting the “fearful” category to describe fearful examples increased with experience and ranged from .30 among those who had never lived with a dog to greater than .70 among dog professionals. In contrast, the probability of selecting the “happy” category to describe happy emotional examples varied little by experience, ranging from .90 to .93. In addition, the number of physical features of the dog that participants reported using for emotional interpretations increased with experience, and in particular, more-experienced respondents were more likely to attend to the ears. Lastly, more-experienced respondents provided lower difficulty and higher accuracy self-ratings than less-experienced respondents when interpreting both happy and fearful emotional examples. The human perception of emotion in other humans has previously been shown to be sensitive to individual differences in social experience, and the results of the current study extend the notion of experience-dependent processes from the intraspecific to the interspecific domain.

Note:  See also the Companion Animal Psychology and Dog Spies blogs for discussions about this work.

Additional Resources

Mariti, C., Gazzano, A., Moore, J. L., Baragli, P., Chelli, L., & Sighieri, C.  (2010). Perception of dogs’ stress by their owners. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 7(4), 213-219.

Molnár, C., Pongrácz, P., & Miklósi, Á. (2010). Seeing with ears: Sightless humans’ perception of dog bark provides a test for structural rules in vocal communication. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 63, 1004-1013.

Pongrácz, P., Miklósi, Á., Molnár, C., & Csányi, V. (2005). Human listeners are able to classify dog barks recorded in different situations. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 119, 136-144.

Pongrácz, P., Molnár, C., & Miklósi, Á. (2006). Acoustic parameters of dog barks carry emotional information for humans. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 100, 228-240.

Tami, G., & Gallagher, A. (2009). Description of the behaviour of domestic dog (Canis familiaris) by experienced and inexperienced people. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 120(3-4), 159-169.

Do Pet-Keeping Practices and Attitudes Vary Across Cultures?

Wan, M., Kubinyi, E., Miklósi, Á., & Champagne, F. A. (2009). A cross-cultural comparison of reports by German Shepherd owners in Hungary and the United States of America. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 121(3), 206-213.

Abstract: Cross-cultural comparisons of dog behavior and dog-keeping practices are limited. The current study compared the questionnaire responses of German Shepherd owners in Hungary and the United States of America (USA). Owners provided information about their dog-keeping practices, as well as reports of their own German Shepherds’ behavior and temperament. Cross-cultural differences and similarities were revealed using multivariate regression. Owners from the USA were more likely to keep their dogs indoors during the day (OR = 29.6, P = 0.006) and at night (OR = 772, P = 0.012), to report that their dogs were kept as pets (OR = 2648, P = 0.003), and to engage their dogs in a greater number of training varieties (e.g. conformation training, agility training) (b = 1.97, P = 0.001). However, country was not significantly associated with the duration of daily dog–owner interaction, dog’s age at acquisition, and the number of previous dogs owned. Owners from the USA rated their dogs more highly than owners from Hungary on the confidence (b = 0.814, P = 0.006) and aggressiveness scales (b = 0.974, P = 0.002) of the Budapest Canine Personality Survey. In contrast, scores on the liveliness and attachment scales of the Budapest Canine Personality Survey, as well as scores on the Dog-ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) Rating Scale, were not predicted by country. Findings for the emotional predisposition questionnaire were similarly mixed. In order to confirm such findings, future cross-cultural studies on dogs should combine the use of surveys with observational methods. Cross-cultural differences like those observed should be considered when interpreting the results of studies on dog cognition and behavior. Researchers may wish to replicate cognitive and behavioral research with dogs from a range of environments around the world before firmly concluding that the findings apply to all dogs.

Additional Resources

Fielding, W. J. (2008). Attitudes and actions of pet caregivers in New Providence, The Bahamas, in the context of those of their American counterparts. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 21(4), 351-361.

Miura, A., Bradshaw, J. W. S., & Tanida, H. (2002). Childhood experiences and attitudes towards animal issues: A comparison of young adults in Japan and the UK. Animal Welfare, 11(4), 437-448.

Takeuchi, Y., & Mori, Y. (2006). A comparison of the behavioral profiles of purebred dogs in Japan to profiles of those in the United States and the United Kingdom. The Journal of Veterinary Medical Science, 68(8), 789.

Are Genes Associated with Behavior in Dogs?

Wan, M., Hejjas, K., Ronai, Z., Elek, Z., Sasvari-Szekely, M., Champagne, F. A., Miklósi, Á., & Kubinyi, E. (2013). DRD4 and TH gene polymorphisms are associated with activity, impulsivity, and inattention in Siberian Husky dogs. Animal Genetics.

Abstract: Both D4 dopamine receptor (DRD4) exon 3 and tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) intron 4 repeat polymorphisms have been linked to activity and impulsivity in German Shepherd Dogs (GSDs).  However, the results in GSDs may not be generalizable to other breeds, since allelic frequencies vary markedly among breeds.  We selected the Siberian Husky for further study, because it is highly divergent from most dog breeds, including the GSD.  The study sample consisted of 145 racing Siberian Huskies from Europe and North America.  We found that this breed possesses seven DRD4 length variants, two to five more variants than found in other breeds.  Among them was the longest known allele, previously described only in wolves.  Short alleles of the DRD4 and TH repeat polymorphisms were associated with higher levels of activity, impulsivity, and inattention.  Siberian Huskies possessing at least one short allele of the DRD4 polymorphism displayed greater activity in a behavioural test battery than those with two long alleles.  However, the behavioural test was brief and may not have registered variation in behaviour across time and situations.  Owners also completed the Dog-Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Rating Scale (Dog-ADHD RS), a more general measure of activity and attention.  Siberian Huskies from Europe with two short alleles of the TH polymorphism received higher ratings of inattention on the Dog-ADHD RS than those with the long allele.  Investigation of the joint effect of DRD4 and TH showed that dogs possessing long alleles at both sites were scored as less active-impulsive than others.  Our results are aligned with previous studies showing that DRD4 and TH polymorphisms are associated with activity-impulsivity related traits in dogs.  However, the prevalence of variants of these genes differs across breeds, and the functional role of specific variants is unclear.

Additional Resources

Hejjas, K., Kubinyi, E., Ronai, Z., Szekely, A., Vas, J., Miklósi, Á., Sasvari-Szekely, M., & Kereszturi, E. (2009). Molecular and behavioral analysis of the intron 2 repeat polymorphism in the canine dopamine D4 receptor gene. Genes, Brain and Behavior, 8, 330-6.

Konno, A., Inoue-Murayama, M., & Hasegawa, T. (2011). Androgen receptor gene polymorphisms are associated with aggression in Japanese Akita Inu. Biology Letters, 7, 658-60.

Kubinyi, E., Vas, J., Hejjas, K., Ronai, Z., Brúder, I., Turcsán, B., Sasvari-Szekely, M., & Miklósi, Á. (2012). Polymorphism in the tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) gene is associated with activity-impulsivity in German Shepherd Dogs. PLoS ONE, 7, e30271.

Parker, H.G., Shearin, A. L., & Ostrander, E. A. (2012). Man’s best friend becomes biology’s best in show: Genome analyses in the domestic dog. Annual Review of Genetics, 44, 309-336.