Invited speakers

John W.S. Bradshaw
Department of Clinical Veterinary Science
University of Bristol

Public talk: Conceptualising the domestic dog – should we start again?

Traditional interpretations of  the behaviour of the domestic dog are based on the hierarchical pack system that was once thought to typify the social behaviour of the wolf.  Recently, attempts have been made to dismantle this framework, based on several lines of reasoning: (1) that social conflict (“dominance”) within wolf-packs is largely an artefact of captive packs, and does not reflect the much more harmonious behaviour of natural, family-based groups; (2) that feral dogs do not construct wolf-type social groups; (3) that much of the behaviour of domestic dogs can be interpreted as originating from patterns of behaviour common to many species within the Canidae, thus pre-dating the evolution of the wolf; (4) from an animal welfare perspective, that the conflict-based wolf-pack model encourages the use of punishment-based training techniques, to achieve a presumed “status reduction”.  These arguments will be evaluated, and suggestions made for alternative ways of thinking about dog-human and dog-dog relationships.

David R. Parsons
The Rewilding Institute

Ecology and conservation of gray wolves in the United States

Through deliberate persecution by humans, gray wolves were nearly extirpated from the lower 48 United States (US) by the mid 1900s, surviving only in the wilderness of northern Minnesota. Following passage of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973, gray wolves (Canis lupus) occurring south of the US/Canada border were legally listed as “endangered” except in Minnesota where they were listed as “threatened.” This created a legal obligation for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to “recover” gray wolves in suitable regions throughout their former range. The ESA requires application of the best available science for placing imperiled species on the official list and for the development of programs, called recovery plans, for recovering endangered species. In addition to protecting imperiled species, the ESA has a co-equal, but seldom applied purpose of conserving ecosystems upon which listed species depend. Recent research findings make a compelling case for the importance of top carnivores, especially wolves, in maintaining the biodiversity and health of ecosystems. Recovery programs are underway for gray wolves in the following regions of the US: Great Lakes in the Upper Midwest; Rocky Mountains in the Northwest; and in Arizona and New Mexico in the Southwest. In the Southwest, the recovery program is focused on the critically imperiled Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi). The Mexican wolf was completely extirpated from the wild and rescued from extinction by the captive breeding of just 7 surviving founders. Science-informed genetics management is critical for maintaining as much gene diversity as possible in both the captive and re-established wild populations. Behavioral  considerations were important in the rearing of captive wolves that would be released to the wild. Beginning in 1998, Mexican gray wolves were released into the Apache and Gila National Forests of Arizona and New Mexico—an area comprising 17,750 square kilometers. The official objective was to establish a self-sustaining wild population of ≥100 wolves by the end of 2006. At last count only 42 Mexican wolves existed in the wild. Causes of current failures and recommendations for recovery success will be examined.

Simon Gadbois 
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Institute
Life Sciences Centre
Dalhousie University

Canine behavioural neuroscience: From canine science in shackles to new opportunities.

Conducting in research in behavioural neuroscience with domestic and wild canids is challenging, and with some questions, impossible. I will present the issues and the potential solutions, or compromises, that face modern canid neuroscience. Many of the issues are amplified because of the subjects we have chosen. Some of the most interesting questions cannot be answered because of invasiveness and related ethical issues, or because ecological validity is violated in such a way that the fundamental value of the research is compromised. Two perspectives in the behavioural sciences and neurosciences can generate interesting questions and offer some insight into neurophysiology and behaviour in canids: Observational methods with a strong neuroscientific theoretical backbone and non-invasive neuroscience. In the first case, we are going back in the past, dwelling into the foundation of ethology, and in the other, we push the limits of imagination and technology. Both require patience and collaboration. Three examples drawn from my research will be given: Field endocrinology with wolves, food caching sequences in red foxes, coyotes and wolves, and olfactory processing in dogs.

Peter Savolainen
KTH Biotechnology
AlbaNova University Center

DNA studies of the origins of dogs

Through comprehensive sampling of dogs across the world we have obtained a detailed picture of the genetic variation among dog populations globally.

The pattern of genetic diversity gives clues to the history of dogs: how the dog originated from wolf, how dogs spread around the world, and possibly at some occasions hybridized with wolf.

We have earlier shown that the domestic dog originated predominantly, and most probably exclusively, from a single event of wolf domestication that took place in South China or Southeast Asia. We will here present some data on how dogs subsequently spread around the world.

Pauleen Bennett
Anthrozoology Research Group
Monash University

Putting the pieces together: using science to improve relationships between people and their canine companions

The most common ‘work’ performed by modern dogs is providing human companionship, yet surprisingly little empirical research has investigated factors influencing the performance of dogs working in this role. Canine scientists understand a great deal about how dogs think, feel and behave. Human scientists also understand a great deal about what is required to ensure that contemporary human lives are healthy, happy and fulfilled. It is well established that interactions between dogs and humans, acting either as owners or as the recipients of therapy or visitation programs, can be extremely beneficial for both species. It is also well established that such interactions can be devastating. Millions of dogs live in conditions not conducive to good physical or mental health. Millions more suffer physically or mentally because they are not well suited to the role of providing companionship; often because of poor or misguided breeding choices on the part of dog breeders or because they received inadequate socialisation and training experiences during critical developmental periods. The number of dogs relinquished to animal shelters worldwide continues to be horrific. Meanwhile, thousands of humans are admitted to hospital emergency rooms annually due to injuries inflicted by companion dogs. Some of these injuries are fatal. Thousands of humans are also distressed by dogs who bark inappropriately or who are otherwise challenging to manage. Emotional, social and financial costs associated with inappropriate dog behaviours are enormous. Hence, governments respond with reactionary policies which have seen some dog breeds banned in many countries and strict controls on dog ownership and management imposed in others. These policies may have significant negative consequences for both dogs and owners and are rarely empirically validated prior to, or even after, implementation. If companion dogs and their owners are to continue to enjoy mutually beneficial relationships, it is essential that dogs be bred, selected and prepared specifically for work in this role. It is equally essential that owners and communities be well equipped to provide optimal environments. While many scientists avoid political involvement, in this presentation it will be demonstrated that science has a great deal to offer those working in policy development, companion dog industries and public education.

Daniel Mills
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Lincoln

Canine behaviour problems and psychopharmacology

Canine behaviour problems represent a collection of behavioural tendencies that are a cause for concern to the keeper or others who come into contact with the animal. Problem behaviour is therefore a subjective construct, since the concept of a "problem" depends on the perception of others, although the behaviour itself may be objectively defined. The role of psychopharmacology in the management of behaviour problems is an area of some controversy and attitudes often vary with the paradigm used to conceptualise problem behaviour. This presentation reviews different paradigms for the study of problem behaviour and the implications for the role of psychoactive chemical intervention. The issue of canid and human homology in a range of problem behaviours associated with emotional "disturbance" is examined together with its implications. The presentation proposes a synthesis of a biological approach together with that used in evidence based medicine for the study of both problem behaviour and the value of psychoactive chemotherapeutic intervention.

Juliane Kaminski
Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Like infant, like dog?

Human communication is regarded as being unique. Humans seem to be specifically adapted to communicate and show sensitivity to certain cues of pedagogy (so-called ostensive cues like e.g., eye contact etc) from early age on. Also humans, probably unlike any other species and again from early age on, communicate referentially, intentionally and with a cooperative motive to share information. In recent years evidence has accumulated to suggest that domestic dogs are outstandingly skilled at using human forms of communication (e.g., the pointing gesture). Dogs seem extremely focused on human communicative cues and certain cues of pedagogy. Sometimes dogs, like children, follow human instruction accompanied by such cues over their own visual experience. These findings are extremely important as they potentially challenge the hypothesis that human forms of communication are unique. However, the degree to which dog's understanding of human communication is comparable to that of humans' is of yet under debate. Here I present alternative hypotheses and a possible theoretical framework, which may explain the empirical data available so far.

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