Although the “jobs” that dogs undertake have changed radically in recent years, man and dog are still as thick as thieves and greater understanding of the science behind the relationship has enabled us to communicate and fathom dogs in a way that was undreamed of.
Anecdotal accounts of dogs being able to detect malignant tumours in humans led to dogs being trained to detect all sorts of volatile compounds that cause illness in man.
Now a study is underway in which six dogs are being trained to see if they can detect the SARS-COV-2 virus that causes COVID 19. The charity Medical Detection Dogs are working in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University, with the aim that dogs could help to provide a rapid, non-invasive diagnosis, perhaps as soon as in 6 weeks.
MDD has already trained dogs to detect various cancers, Parkinson’s disease, bacterial infections and malaria. Dogs are also able to detect subtle changes in skin temperature, so could potentially indicate if someone has a fever.
Trained dogs could be deployed to identify incoming infected travellers or be deployed in other public spaces to help with tracking and tracing infection as the lockdown is eased.
It is understandable in the current situation that research is published quickly and, of necessity, before peer review. Creditably, it is also often made available via Creative Commons licensing.
One such paper has been picked up by various media today suggesting that feral dogs rather than pangolins could have been a vector for the SARS-COV-2 virus.
Approximately 80% of the world’s dogs are feral, living alongside but not formally with, humans with varying degrees of tolerance on the part of the latter. One such group of dogs is a landrace dog on the Indian sub-continent. Taking their name from the Pariah tribe of Madras, a derivation of the Anglo-Indian word pye or paë and the Hindi pāhī meaning ‘outsider’, the term has become synonymous with all outcasts particularly those who are ostracised. Just as the very word “dog” is used as an insult, so the poor pariahs.
Feral dogs can and do transmit zoonotic diseases, notably rabies, but academics have already poured scorn on the suggestion that they have been responsible for humans contracting COVID-19.
The consensus appears to be that conclusion have been drawn from weak and erroneous evidence based on the suggestion that feral dogs ate infected bats and were them presumably eaten by humans as it has already been proven that dogs do not become symptomatic even in the rare event that they have become infected and that they do to transmit the virus easily.
As Professor James Wood, Head of Department of Veterinary Medicine and researcher in infection dynamics and control of diseases at the University of Cambridge, said:
“I find it difficult to understand how the author has been able to conclude anything from this study, or to hypothesise much, let alone that the virus causing COVID19 may have evolved through dogs. There is far too much inference and far too little direct data. I do not see anything in this paper to support this supposition and am concerned that this paper has been published in this journal. I do not believe that any dog owners should be concerned as a result of this work.”
This is a difficult and unprecedented time for everyone in the world. There are no blueprints, no historical precedents on this scale to help us. Whilst we struggle to come to terms with a global pandemic, it is impossible to explain to our dogs why their world has suddenly shrunk and changed beyond all recognition.
There are some things that we can do to help them adjust and to make our lives a little less stressful whilst abiding by government advice and obligations and remaining safe.
1 Stimulation is as important for dogs as exercise. Find novel ways to keep your dog’s mind occupied, especially if exercise is limited
2 Now is the time to start or improve training. 5-15 minutes per day of non-aversive, positive training will work wonders
3 Use a lead and a long line when your dog is in public. Even if your recall is brilliant, that doesn’t apply to other dogs and it is imperative that you do not get into a situation that would make it impossible to keep at least six feet away from other people
4 Maintain a routine. Predictability helps dogs to feel secure even if it is different to your normal routine
5 Keep toys limited to two different types and swap them over periodically so that your dog does not become bored
6 Make sure that your dog has a safe, quiet place and can choose to go there, especially if your house is fuller and noisier than normal
7 Limit and control access that children have to your dog so that extra time at home does not mean extra pressure and stress for your dog
9 If you have new puppy, find inventive ways to continue socialisation: use sound tapes, wear a variety of different clothes, create lots of different surfaces to walk on etc
10 Keep it fun: keep it safe.
Contact DogsNet to obtain a unique COVID-19 Survival Guide
Worried about whether your dog or cat could catch COVID-19?
There have been reports in the press that two dogs and one cat have tested positive for COVID-19. Companion animals act as fomites – a surface on which COVID-19 can settle and be transferred via direct contact. Current advice is that following the correct hand washing technique should help to protect you and your animals from infection.
A new study published by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences has found that dogs, pigs, chickens and ducks transmit the virus poorly, but that ferrets and cats transmit it much more effectively. The cats in the study passed the virus to other cats in close proximity through aerosol transmission.
Ferret and cats owners in particular should therefore be very careful to limit close contact and observe the recommended hygiene procedures.
As COVID-19 restrictions begin to bite in the UK with what seems like the beginning of the wave of infections, many dog owners must be very worried about how they will keep their dogs exercised and happy over the coming days and weeks, and perhaps months.
Not every dog owner has a garden and many have very small spaces, perhaps not even with grass. The National Trust, Royal Parks and many local authority parks have already closed gated green spaces and some car parks.
Government advice at time of writing is that one outing a day is permitted to exercise, including walking dogs.
It should be obvious that ensuring one’s own safety as well as that of other people is of the utmost urgency, but the behaviour of many people over the last weekend beggared belief.
Please remember the importance of keeping your dog mentally stimulated and, whilst physical activity outdoors may be limited, keep up and even enhance your training regime, play brain games and keep your dog challenged mentally.
Keep your distance from other people while out walking and take bio-security precautions if you are helping with a dog belonging to someone who is symptomatic or ill.
Keep well, keep safe, keep stimulated!
The final line up at Crufts was one of the most depressing that we have seen in a while. Puffed up and preened, the poor Old English sheepdog was as far away from guarding sheep as he could be, although at least he has an in-breeding coefficient of 0%. The Irish Setter has an in-breeding coefficient of 16.2%, 2.7% higher than the breed average; the miniature poodle 11.7%, a whopping 6.8% higher than the breed average, and the BIS winner, the wire haired dachsund 10.8%, also 6.8% higher than the breed average.
Even without this close level of in-breeding, deciding that out of approximately 20,000 entries, that an achondroplastic dog with a ridiculously elongated back is the best example of a dog makes me despair. The fact that this dog also needed to eliminate in the ring was also hardly edifying from a welfare perspective.
The BVA President Daniella dos Santos said “We’re concerned that seeing a dachshund crowned top dog at Crufts could lead to a further rise in their popularity and related increase in the health issues that can unfortunately affect these and other long and low breeds.”
However, this horse has possibly already bolted: as with other deformed phenotypes, dachsunds, and in particular miniature dachshunds have gained in popularity and seem to be almost as ubiquitous as pugs and French bulldogs, not least in the popular media.
How ironic that Vitality UK, a life insurance company, has chosen a miniature dachshund to promote their product. The BVA note that “…all six varieties of dachshunds– Standard Long-, Smooth-, and Wire-haired, and their miniature versions– [are] at risk of serious spinal and neurological issues which usually require surgery to fix. These problems may not be immediately obvious, but often cause them life-long discomfort and may need costly treatment”.
The most common problem is Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) which causes early degenerative changes in the discs that act as “shock absorbers” for the spine making them prone to herniate and calcify and resulting in the spinal cord compressing.
This is extremely painful for dogs and they may yelp, show a hunched back with the head down, shiver, pant, refuse to move or be unable to jump or negotiate stairs. It progresses to difficulty in walking with poor control of the hind limbs and ultimately, complete paralysis. Severely affected dogs have a paralysed bladder and may be unable to urinate and/or dribble urine. Completely paralysed dogs have no bladder function and lose the ability to feel pain.
Dachshunds are 10-12 times more likely to suffer from IVDD than other dog breeds. At least 20% of all dachshunds will show clinical signs of this disease. The median age of onset of disease is between 5-7 years, with the Standard and Miniature Smooth Haired and the Miniature Wire Haired having the highest prevalence.
Even if the BIS winner is not affected, how does promoting this type of extreme physical distortion promote canine health?
Unsurprisingly, appearance is often prioritised over health and, horrifyingly, in the case of brachycephalic dogs, because of their poor health. The survey also found that “…owners who kept brachycephalic breeds tended to be younger, buying for the first time and without any prior ownership of dogs”.
Another study found that “…owners of French Bulldogs and Chihuahuas, breeds that are prone to health problems owing to their extreme body conformation, [felt that] the health of the breed was reported to be of less importance in pre-acquisition motivations when compared to the dog’s appearance…Thus, it is possible that health, as a trait, is potentially important in some owners’ acquisition motivations, though here it is poor health that is being favoured.”
This may also explain why some owners are unwilling to allow their dog to undergo life-changing surgery such as correction for BOAS. This is backed up by another study which found that “…owners of brachycephalic dogs were less likely to see either parent of their puppy: 12% of brachycephalic owners saw neither parent, compared to 5% of non-brachycephalic owners. Those who owned brachycephalic dogs were also less likely to ask for any health records, suggesting that owners of these dogs are less motivated to buy a healthy individual within a breed”.
The authors went on to say that owners deliberately purchasing unhealthy dogs diminishes the demand for healthy dogs, or at least health tested dogs and perpetuates the proliferation of puppy farms, back street breeders and online sales.
Looks really can kill.
Update: March 29th: The Pomeranian dog in Hong Kong that tested positive for Covid-19 tested negative again and was allowed to go home on March 8th. The dog died on March 16th. However, the owner refused to allow a post mortem examination so no cause of death could be confirmed. The dog was 17 years old.
The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has stated that “There is no evidence that dogs play a role in the spread of this human disease or that they become sick.”
The media has been awash with articles about Covid-19 and the emergent coronavirus in the last few weeks. It is perhaps not surprising that dogs are now featuring in media stories given how many dogs are living in close quarters with humans worldwide.
In fact, humans are more likely to pass on MRSA to their dogs or pick up various zoonoses, including via feeding raw food.
At the moment, it is not possible to tell how infections of coronavirus will progress, but there is a certain amount of hype and panic because bad news sells media advertising. In perspective, approximately 3,000 have died as a result of contracting Covid-19: seasonal influenza is estimated to kill between 100 and 200 times as many humans annually.
The latest sensational headline concerns a dog in Hong Kong that has tested as “weak positive” for coronovarius following infection of his owner.
Mass culling of dogs already occurs in response to rabies outbreaks, in spite of the fact that it is ineffective in curbing the disease. It would be horrific if dogs were to suffer because of panic over this current disease outbreak. Let us hope that common sense prevails; after all, the dog is likely to have inhaled virus shed by his owner as it seems highly unlikely that Covid-19 could have jumped species so quickly.
There has been much fuss recently over a New York Times article pointing out the negative impact of dog parks which has now been picked up the BBC in their Radio 4 consumer programme You and Yours for two days running.
The situation in many US states is rather different to that pertaining in the UK where, in spite of access problems in some areas, restrictions on dogs are not quite so widespread. Michigan and Pennsylvania have state-wide “leash laws” that require owners to keep dogs on leads when off their one premises, although challenges have been raised via case law in Pennsylvania where the intent of the law was clarified to be about prevention of roaming other then preventing off-lead exercise.
Several other states prohibit dogs from being off-lead in public parks which had led to the development of the “dog park”: an enclosed area where dogs are permitted off lead. Many mandate that dogs are kept on lead in areas inhabited by livestock or wildlife.
As in the UK, dog-friendly areas vary greatly from small, sterile, parasite-ridden spaces to reasonably large areas. Urban owners are often far better served by varied dog-friendly areas to let their dogs run the owners in the countryside and the density of the dog population is higher.
As ever, the real problem is that owners do not understand their dog’s requirements for stimulation and training and far too many owners purchase dogs and then outsource their care to unqualified, incompetent walkers. The chaos that this has caused in many parks with large numbers of out of control dogs causing havoc and often being abused by their handlers led to many local authorities imposing restrictions on the number of dogs that can be walked at any one time. This in turn led to walkers going out in pairs or groups and further problems led to bans.
Many dogs are now taken out of town, with farmers hiring out fields. Far from solving problems, they continue even further away from owners and are also a poor use of agricultural land.
So are “dog parks” bad?
Well, quality off-lead stimulation and exercise is always good even if the space in which it occurs is not ideal, but how much better would it be if owners would refrain from getting a dog when they don’t have enough time or the inclination to undertake the majority of their care, if dog walkers where trained and regulated and if dogs were so well-adjusted and trained that they could be taken anywhere without fear of incident.
The doyen of applied behaviourists Patricia McConnell revived a post from 2010 with an interesting link to an article about human movement.
When light points are used to delineate major joints so that the observer only sees a collection of lights, the human brain not only perceives a whole human but can ascribe male or female attributes with a high degree of accuracy. Whilst that is not too surprising, whether male or female, observers reported that figures perceived to be male always appeared to be approaching but those perceived as female were waking away.
This may shed more light (pardon the pun) on the oft-reported phenomenon that some dogs are less comfortable with men than women. Generally, it has been thought that it may be due to men being taller and larger and having deeper voices but perhaps it is also gait?
Many people intimidate dogs by their direct approach; I have lost count of the number of people who have told me that “Dogs love them” as they loom over a flinching dog, hand over the face. We owe it to dogs to be considerably more conscious of the effect that our physicality has them and maybe now we have another tool in the box to help male dog owners.
No amount of money can make up for the pain, shock and permanent disability suffered by the postal worker and all because the owner couldn’t be bothered to fix a basket to her door and then train her dog not to react.
The Communication Workers Union reported 2,484 dog attacks on postmen and women in the UK in 2019 – a 9% increase compared with 2018 and resulting in 47 attacks every week. 82% of injuries occurred at the front door or in a garden.
It is a simple matter to isolate a dog before opening a door or to fix a basket to catch the post. After all, the dog that bit the postal worker’s fingers is also now at risk from being put down if any other incident occurs through no fault of its own and the owner has a criminal record for having a dog that was dangerously out of control.