Citizen science–be there or be square. Researchers from the University of Guelph are conducting a survey about resource guarding in dogs. You can participate by going to this link and filling out the questionnaire. I hope you do–you’ll see why as you read more…
True confessions: I originally tried to take the survey in April, but didn’t finish it. If you’re on Facebook, you can see my post on April 24th about it. In that post I wrote: I took the survey myself and loved the videos that asked the viewer how they categorized what they saw, but got a bit frustrated at the end when the questions began to seem endless, and worse, impossible to answer correctly. (Ex: “How many people did you expose your new pup to at these four different ages: 4-8 weeks, 8 to 12 weeks?”). As if I could remember accurately!
A few Facebook readers commented that they too got a bit frustrated and didn’t finish the survey. Those comments led to a lovely talk with Jacquelyn Jacobs, one of the researchers. Here is what she had to say about the intention and goals of the research:
This particular survey is exploratory and we intend to use the results to inform future, more specific studies on resource guarding risk factors. Our ultimate aim is to help owners identify the behaviour early and give them the tools they need to either manage the behaviour and/or prevent harmful behaviours from occurring.
One of my PhD projects has been the detailed video observation of dogs around resources to describe the different strategies dogs have to control access to a resource/item/object. We’ve identified at least three through this work: 1) avoidance (for example, grabbing an item and running away with it), 2) rapid ingestion (this involves a rapid speed of eating an item, usually a food item but it can be anything the dog chooses to ingest), and 3) aggression (biting and snapping)/threatening behaviour (e.g. growling, freezing, hard stare, teeth baring). One of the things we hope will come across in the results of the large risk factor survey is the relationship between some of these different resource control strategies. In the future we hope to determine if some dogs are more or less predisposed to showing one form over another, and if so, can we do something to encourage the expression of the non-aggressive forms instead of the aggressive forms (since it is a natural behaviour, generally speaking) and help owners to recognize them and respond appropriately?
These are great goals, and I hope that you seriously consider taking the survey yourself. (I took it again recently, and finished this time. Good Trisha, Good Trisha. More on that below.) Before you do, here are some things to know:
The length of the survey: You are warned that the survey takes about 30 minutes to complete. Mea culpa; I didn’t believe it. I usually breeze through surveys in half the time that is allotted, and started mine under the dryer at the hair salon. Twenty minutes in, my hair dresser was standing over me, waiting for me to finish. I could have simply gone back to the survey and finished it later, an option anyone has, but for reasons not known to womankind, I didn’t take it. Actually, I think I do know why–see next issue.)
Being asked questions you can’t answer: That, in truth, is probably why I got out of the survey the first time. I knew there was no way I could accurately say how many people that Willie had met almost nine years ago when he was eight weeks old. But Jacquelyn reminded me that one can always choose an option that says Unsure, which is what I should have done. I do worry, however, and I expressed this concern to Ms. Jacobs, that some people would guess, but not with any accuracy. We all know that memories aren’t always accurate. I would predict that people would guess that their dog met more new people than they actually did, just like people claim to eat more fruits and vegetables than they actually do. But Jacquelyn is aware of this problem, and it is only a small section of the survey. Now that I’ve had time to think about it (and am no longer under the hair dryer at the beauty salon), I wouldn’t let it be a reason to give up on the survey.
The videos: Bear in mind that the videos illustrate a dog responding to an Assessa-Hand. You first watch the videos that categorize different types of resource guarding behavior. Then you watch other videos of the same situation, and are asked to categorize what you saw. This is a way for the researchers to get an idea of how effective watching videos are at educating people about canine behavior around resources. (This is, of course, analyzed with the respondent’s level of experience around dogs as another factor.) I love this section of the survey, both because it’s great fun and because it should provide some great data. However, do NOT get caught up on the issue of whether Assessa-Hands are appropriate ways to evaluate dogs in shelters. This study has nothing to do with that: They are simply using the videos as a way to categorize the different ways dogs respond around a resource. There is even a disclaimer (good for them), that says ***Please do not ever attempt the types of manipulations seen in the videos with your own dog.*** So, please don’t get off track about the use of Assessa-Hands; the issue is resource guarding and how dogs do it.
After talking with Ms. Jacobs, I took the test, this time for Maggie. (You can do it for only one, or all of your dogs.) It took me 25 minutes, far more enjoyably than the first time, because I started when I could focus on it for the time allotted. However, it didn’t take 30 minutes, because I got Maggie when she was over a year old, and so was not asked any questions about her early socialization. The only questions I still found troublesome include one question that asked me choose one of three options regarding my relationship with my dogs. There was no “None of the Above” choice, and I found it difficult to choose. But you can always skip it and move on. The other minor issue was the set of questions about training methodologies. Since, in Maggie’s case, they related to our work with another (sheepdog) trainer, I again had questions I couldn’t answer–like the one that asked if I and the trainer used “treats” (versus punishment), but there was no category for “positive reinforcement.”
So, is it a perfect survey? No. Is it worth taking? Absolutely! There will be a lot of great data that they can take out of it. I hope you jump in and take it yourself. Right now they have about 2,700 completed surveys, but want 4,000 in total. They need them all by August 1st, so jump on board and add your experience to the data set. For now, I’d love to hear about your own experience with resource guarding dogs, especially in relation to the categories mentioned above (avoidance, gulping food, or aggressive/threatening behavior). Right now I’m a lucky woman, and have no issues between any of my three dogs. If you do, or want to learn more about resource guarding in general, I wrote an extensive blog about the issue in May of 2013. Don’t hesitate to refer to that if you haven’t seen it and would like to learn more.)
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: The BCs and I spent two heavenly days at a Scott Glen sheepdog clinic. If only a person could clone a mini version of Scott and keep it on one’s shoulder for the next 6 months. We all learned tons. including that my whistle signals are, uh, weak. The irony of this will not escape you if you know that my master’s thesis was on the whistle signals of sheepdog handlers. Sigh.
Here’s a photo I took on Sunday. Apologies to FB readers, I already posted it there, but I do love it…
Sunday I spent most of the day digging up chest high-poison ivy (poor Jim got a big dose of it a few days ago), clearing thorny raspberry bushes (ouch) and pulling up Virginia stick seed, the worst burr ever known to fur. All in sauna-like conditions. Ah, the fun of living in the country. It’s astounding how much grows that you really, really don’t want around. And that you have to get rid of when it’s especially hot and humid.
But here is one of the joys of living in the country: Check out this butterfly, looking toward the right in the photograph.
But, no, it’s not. The eye spot and wing extensions are there to confuse predators. Look carefully at the left and you’ll see the real head, along with the insect’s black and white antenna. I never would have seen this wonderful creature if I hadn’t been chest deep in raspberry bushes and pulling vines out of my wild plum trees. Check out this article on faking out predators, which includes a video of a somewhat similar-looking (Lycaenid) butterfly that also moves its wings back and forth to attract attention away from its head. Anyone know the species ID of the one in my yard? I’m in Wisconsin, so don’t go guessing a species that’s common in Thailand! I look forward to learning more about this lovely creature.