Veterinary Behavior Symposium


Veterinary behaviorists and other veterinarians interested in animal behavior were among those attending the 2015 Veterinary Behavior Symposium, attended by members of American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and other interested professionals on July 10, Boston, MA the day before the opening of the annual Convention of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Kicking off the event was keynoter Dr. Raymond Coppinger, professor emeritus of biology University of Massachusetts, and an author of about 50 scientific papers, and various books including “DOGS: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution” (with Lorna Coppinger,  Scribner, NY, NY, 2001; $26).

Coppinger called his talk, “What Makes Dogs Tick: The Ethology of Dog Behavior.”  He began by explaining how changing the size of the dog changes behavior.  There’s no more variability in size of any single species on earth compared to the domestic dog. “So while dogs are dogs, the size of individual dogs or dogs of various breeds accounts – at least in great part – for their behavior,” he said. “In many ways small dogs respond very differently than very large dogs.”

He suggested that dogs act as they do because of hard-wired motor patterns which dogs are born with.  While he somewhat begrudgingly agrees dogs do think, and concedes that our best friends have emotions – at the same time he maintains many of their responses are automatic. “They do it,” he says, “Even if they don’t know what they’re doing, or why.”

Coppinger also spoke about why dogs may fight over resources not only based on the resource quality itself, but also the scarcity of the resource. He pointed out that food and toys are hardly the only conceivable resources. One example was a hard to come by shady spot, a valued resource for street dogs feeding at a garbage dump in Mexico, that offered few places out of direct sun.

Autistic Dogs

Bull Terriers who compulsively chase their tails may be autistic, according to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the behavior clinic at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, North Grafton.

Dodman has studied why some Bull Terriers chase their tails for years. He says that like autistic people the tail-chasing Bull Terriers may be socially maladapted, unpredictably aggressive to others and/or may stare into space for no apparent reason. Some individuals may benefit some from wearing pressure vests (tightly fitting vests). Dodman suggested biomarkers are beginning to demonstrate a link.

This is the first study which has proposed that autism may occur in dogs.

Best Fencing Systems for Dogs

Veterinary student Nicole Starinsky,  of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Columbus, earned the Whitney Joy Engler Memorial Student Research for her study which compared the effectiveness of various fencing or containment systems and their potential relationship to dog bites.  She included fences dogs can easily see through, fences dogs can’t see through and electronic or invisible-type fencing systems.

Of all the types of fencing, dogs escaped most often from electronic fencing system (when compared to other fencing). Outside their yards and without supervision there’s more of a potential for dog bites, not to mention the potential of dogs getting lost, and if that happens ultimately  landing at animal shelter, or getting hit by a car.

Dogs allowed outside in yards when no one is home to supervise were at a greater risk to bite. Dogs who bark were not necessarily predictive of biting. Although, all dogs who do bite also bark.

In the end, though, there’s no significant statistical relationship between dgos who bite and fencing. However, Starinksy suggests more studies are required.

Sniff, Sniff

Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Margaret Duxbury of Minneapolis, MN presented a study that compared how dogs greet one another off-leash (at a dog park) compared to on leash-walks. Indeed, there turns out to be difference.

Leashed dogs are more like to greet one another face first. Off-leash, dogs are more likely to sniff first at another dog’s rear. Duxbury suggests this difference may be due to limitations of walking on-leash, and wondered out loud if some dogs have social difficulties with other dogs because they feel constrained when greeting other canines.

The Symposium was held in remembrance of Dr. Sophia Yin, a veterinarian and certified applied animal behaviorist who authored many books (which remain available) and taught animal behavior; Yin passed away in 2014.

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