HOLY MOLY dog lovers, did you get a chance to watch any of SPARCS 2018? (No worries if you missed it, because we all can watch it (and for free, no kidding) in a week or so through it’s new sponsor, the National Canine Research Council.
SPARCS stands for The Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science, and is a three-day, live-streamed conference in which animal behavior scientists “present, discuss and debate their findings” in an accessible style. Best of all to me, the format includes lots of Q&A and discussions between the presenters and the community of dog lovers who are watching.
This is absolute heaven for any of us who have experienced the best of academia—cutting edge research, honest discussions of what we know and what we don’t know, and lots of Q&A after each presentation, hosted by the ever-brilliant Julie Hecht (Dog Spies) and Mia Cobb (Do You Believe in Dog?). Don’t be intimidated by the presenters (awesome) and this year’s topic (canine behavioral genetics). Although genetics can be uh, dense, these accessible presentations are a great opportunity to catch up on new discoveries about the genetics of behavior, which are coming at us as fast as a teenage Labrador off leash for the first time.
I was out of town for much of the weekend, and missed most of it, but that’s okay, because we all can watch it (for free) in a week or so through it’s new sponsor, the National Canine Research Council. Kudos to the Council for taking this on, and especially for providing the information free for everyone and anyone.
Did you watch any of it? If so, tell us what you found most interesting. If you missed it, and to whet your appetite, here are just a few things you could have learned if you’d been able to watch the whole thing:
From Jessica Hekman, DVM, PhD, a specialist in stress hormones, we learned why, in both evolutionary and physiological terms, pregnant dogs should not be so coddled that they live in a bubble, but if over stressed, can create pups that grow up with little resilience. And did you know that stress has the strongest effect on the pups in mid to middle-late pregnancy? (Please, no pregnant females in shelters, she suggests.) She gave a great presentation on the effects of stress on early development. It’s a subject I know a bit about, and I still learned a lot.
Claire Wade, PhD, who began her career in quantitative genetics before making the leap to genomics (I had to look that up), caused me to abandon packing for awhile when I heard the words “different types of working Kelpies,” and “the genetics related to traits that make a sheepdog better at gathering large fields or working in the pens”. She explained that handlers argue to her (I can hear them myself) “Why do this research? We already know that some lines have more power and guts, and others do better doing independent work that takes more finesse than push?” But her argument is sound: There is a lot to learn when looking for genetic markers for traits that appear to have a genetic component. This is a fantastic opportunity to begin to push the boundaries of what we know about the influences on certain observable behaviors–most likely a combination of genetics and early development.
The other presenters were:
Elinor Karlsson, PhD, is an assistant professor in bioinformatics and integrative biology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. She is particularly interested in diseases shared by humans and dogs. She also initiated the Darwin’s Dogs project, which I’ll be joining myself in the near future. I love that she flat out said “This is complicated” when taking about trying to understand heritability and genetics” but inspires us all to do just that.
I haven’t begun to list everything these impressive people have done, (for more, see SPARCS-2018) but I hope it’s clear that this is a rare opportunity to learn from people at the cutting edge of behavioral genetic science. Lucky us!
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Finally good weather! Yay! After brutal heat and humidity, we got a bit of a break. Whew. Jim and I took a 24-hour vacation from the farm and stayed in downtown Madison on Saturday night. We had a great time being tourists in our own home town. I highly recommend it! Here’s view of Lake Mendota from the Monona Terrace:
Here is the flock streaming down the hill after I called them. Look how the lambs have grown!
Sheep have bad hair days too: