A Dog's Life: Intelligence and Inbreeding

What can we learn from our canine companions, and have we taken breeding too far?
19 July 2016
Presented by Georgia Mills, Kat Arney
Production by Georgia Mills.


The Naked Scientists bring you a 'ruff' guide to dogs! We chart the ancient origins of our favourite pets, examine how smart dogs could provide clues into human disease and explore the science behind the problems caused by years of inbreeding. Plus, news of why it's not just redheads who are more at risk from the sunny weather, and does Pokemon Go mark a new frontier in gaming?

In this episode

01:00 - Pain researchers forgetting females

Most studies using mice to investigate pain are only using males, which could mean medication is not as effective for females.

Pain researchers forgetting females
with Ewan St John Smith, University of Cambridge

When investigating pain, most of our studies make rather a big omission - the Micemice being tested are all male, which may mean that many females are missing out. Researcher Jeffrey Mogil this week revealed 78% of studies published last year in the journal Pain used only male mice, and urged scientists to include female mice in their studies in future. To find out more Georgia Mills spoke to Dr Ewan St John smith  who works on pain at the University of Cambridge.

Ewan - Jeff Mogil runs a large research group in Canada and for a long time he's been a proponent of the fact that biomedical scientists have been missing out by focusing most of their rodent research on only using males. And he's got a lot of research suggesting 'hey look, it's very important to consider looking at males and females because there are big differences in the biology and responses to measure to whatever behavioural tests you were doing.' His main area of focus has been pain and he's shown it makes a big difference in certain pain models, and for certain therapies if you're using groups of males versus groups of females you can get different results. His main thing is that researchers should be making a bigger consideration when planning their experiments as to whether they should be using females, males, or a mixture and, if they are only going to be using males, how is that justified and is it justifiable. I mean there may be a reason but that's what his main argument is it's an important factor that lots of people are just ignoring.

Georgia - What proportion of studies are using just male mice?

Ewan - The majority of studies are using just males. If you go back in time the main reason for this is thought to be that females animals obviously have an oestrous cycle, they have hormonal fluxes and, therefore, that will introduce a rather difficult control variable into the studies.

Georgia - Just to play devil's advocate, what's a small thing like gender when you're using an entirely different species?

Ewan - Again, it depends what your research question is. My group focuses a lot on rheumatoid arthritis; this is a condition which is mainly prevalent in females. So one could argue that we don't understand a huge amount about how rheumatoid arthritis is caused and maybe if would be of benefit to focus studies on rheumatoid arthritis on females, or to at least include females and males in studies of a disease that's most common in females. You can track the different members of a study through to see if there are any differences in sex. Sometimes there might be  and sometimes there won't be, but if you only focus on males, you might might miss out on something.

Georgia - And what kind of real world implications could this omission be having?

Ewan - Well there's one study that came out several years ago where there was a protein called Toll-like receptor 4 and the research identified that when you knocked this gene out, you remove this gene from the animals they no longer developed neuropathic pain, so that's a sort of pain associated with nerve damage. So this looked like this particular protein would be a good target in understanding more about developing analgesics for treating neuropathic pain, but then it turned out this was only true in males; if you remove the gene in female mice it didn't make any difference.  And that's just a piece of evidence along with lots of others from different research groups showing that the biology of how pain is caused at certain levels is different between males and females; some of the stress induced analgesia that is present in males and females has different pathways.  So I think there's numerous bits of evidence accumulating suggesting that it's not going to be different at every single point of the pain pathway, but if you don't look you might miss something. Jeff Mogil himself has reanalysed a lot of data that's published and his general feeling is that you can statistically show that females appear to be more sensitive to, and less tolerant of pain than men.

Georgia - Could it be argued then that a whole host of pain treatments are engineered for men and may not be effective for women at all?

Ewan -  I don't know about ones that are currently in the clinic but I think the same that if you look at cancer research, scientists are trying to understand more about very specific differences between different sorts of cancers and whether certain subgroups of people would be susceptible to certain treatments and others wouldn't be,  so this idea of personalised medicine. I can certainly imagine a case where there will be certain pain medications that may be developed that are far more efficacious in females than men or visa versa. But again, if you don't look to see if there are differences there you are not going to find them, and you may end up developing a treatment that looks great in male mice but fails in clinical trials because your clinical trial may have involved both male and females.

05:37 - Why red hair increases sun damage

A gene found in a quarter of the population, especially redheads, can increase the risks of melanoma from sun damage.

Why red hair increases sun damage
with Dr David Adams, Sangar Institute

It is well known that redheads with pale skin and freckles are prone to sun damage.  Now, new research from the Sanger Institute in Hinxton has shown how the gene associated with being a redhead not only increases the risk of developing skin cancer but also makes the tumour grow much faster.  What's more, this gene can also be carried by those without red hair, meaning many are unaware that they are at a greater risk. In fact - it is estimated that 25% of UK adults are carriers of the gene.  Redhead Claire Armstrong spoke to Dr David Adams to find out more...

David - What we were interested in in this study was exploring the link between variance in a gene called MC1R and this is the gene that's associated with being a redhead, and the effect that this has on the number of mutations that are found within a type of tumour called melanoma. A melanoma is a kind of skin tumor and they arise from cells called melanocytes which are found in the skin. Melanocytes are the cells which produce melanin and melanin is associated with tanning, so melanoma arises from those cells. If you're an individual who has no mutations in the gene MC1R, then you are someone who will tan but people who have one of these MC1R will freckle and they produce a slightly different form of melanin.

Claire - How do you know if you have these gene? I'm a redhead so I'm assuming that I have the gene but neither of my parents are redheads.

David - Right. So if you have two copies you've got a complexion like yours so red hair, probably pale skin and freckles. If you carry one copy, these people generally have pale skin and often freckles but they need not necessarily be redheads. It's generally the pale skin and freckles that would tell you carry one of these, what's known as an allele, which is a mutation in MC1R gene.

Claire - And are both of these groups in general more at risk of getting skin cancer?

David - If you are a redhead you're about four times more likely than the general population of develop melanoma. If you're one of these people who carries one of these variant form of MC1R, then you are about twice as likely. So this is further biological proof about exactly why that it is really the mutation number that is influenced by having one or two of the allele MC1R variants. So we looked in tumours that were established, so these were tumours that were removed when they were quite large. And what we found was that the number of mutations that you would find in an individual who carried one of these alleles equated to around the number of mutations that are in individuals without one of these alleles would get in 21 years.

Claire - And how did you study this? How did you study the increased mutations?

David - This was a big international collaboration and, fortunately, genome sequences had been generated for over 400 melanomas and these melanomas came from people all over the world, so we downloaded the data and reanalysed it.

Claire - What's actually going on then at a cellular level with these gene when you have the mutation in the genome? Do you know why it's giving rise to more mutations in the tumour than when you don't have the gene?

David - So its around the ability of individuals who carry these variants to produce that mature form of melanin, so the mature form is the darker coloured melanin. So the melanin, when you carry one of these variant forms of MC1R is not fully processed through to that darker form, and so you get a type of melanin that is red in colour and this particular type of melanin is less able to protect the cells of the skin from the effects of UV radiation.

Claire - I guess in the UK where we don't have very much sunshine unfortunately, actually 10 million people are deficient in vitamin D which we get from the sun, but then at the same time we don't want to be over-exposing ourselves to the sun. So what would be the best balance - we want to get some vitamin D!


10:48 - Myth: Women are "in-sync"

Do women really synchronise their periods when living together?

Myth: Women are "in-sync"
with Kat Arney, Naked Scientists

This week Kat Arney has been finding out the truth behind a myth that keeps calendarturning up on a regular basis...

Kat -  If you're anything like me, if you're female and ever lived communally, such as in college halls or a shared house, you'll probably be aware of the idea that women living together quickly end up in synch - and I don't mean wanting a shower at the same time. I'm talking about periods - menstruation - and the idea that girls who live together will go with the flow together too.

It's actually a very old idea, linked to another myth that women's periods are controlled by the moon because the human menstrual cycle is around 28 to 30 days, roughly the same duration as the lunar cycle. Also, some animals do come into their breeding season together at certain times of the year - with the most extreme examples being mass spawnings of sea-dwelling species like corals - so why not humans?

Back in the early 70s this idea was put to the test by a researcher called Martha McClintock, who studied 135 17 to 22-year-old female students living in dorms at Wellesley College - a private women-only college near Boston in Massachusetts. Following them through the academic year, she discovered that their cycles did seem to synch up over time, eventually publishing her results in the prestigious journal Nature. This sparked a lot of interest in finding out why - the main suspects being hormones or pheromones produced by women at various points in their menstrual cycle and sensed by their room-mates.

A study in 1998, also by McClintock and also published in Nature, suggested that sniffing other women's whiffy armpits could shift cycles a few days one way or the other, suggesting a mechanism by which ladies could link up. But this was strongly criticised for ignoring the crucial point that other studies - conducted using more robust methods than McClintock's - had failed to find any evidence for menstruating in synch at all, throwing the whole underlying idea into doubt. McClintock's studies in non-human female animals, including rats, hamsters and monkeys, which had shown that these creatures also get in synch were also disproved by more careful research.

So what might be going on? Well, I don't know if you've ever done that thing where you sit in traffic with your indicator ticking, and watch the indicator light of the car in front? You'll find that after a while they seem to become synchronised, then gradually drift out again. What you're seeing isn't hormonal communication between your car and theirs, but a mathematical phenomenon - things with similar length cycles appearing to align every so often.

And when it comes to a bunch of women living together with similar but not identical menstrual cycles, it doesn't always run like clockwork - especially because the length of a woman's cycle and her period can shift by a day or more, or be even more unpredictable, and be affected by hormones, stress, diet and more. So there will be random times when every woman's period collides, just due to chance, but plenty of others when their cycles drift apart again. So it's time to put this one down as a myth. Period.

14:15 - Virtual and augmented reality

How does VR work, and how is it set to change how we play games?

Virtual and augmented reality
with Peter Cowley, Angel Investors

You may have heard of something that has been rolled out this week called vr manpokemon go. This is a mobile game which has people catching fictional creatures called pokemon in their local area- and it uses something called AR, or augmented reality.  Augmented reality and its cousin virtual reality are coming our way - with companies racing to have their tech ready and on the shelves as soon as possible. But how does it work, and what does this mean for gaming? Naked Scientists tech wizard Peter Cowley took Georgia Mills through this new frontier of gaming...

Peter -  There are two parts to those two abbreviations VR and AR. VR is virtual reality and AR is augmented reality.

First of all virtual reality is where you are effectively completely immersed in an environment, which could be real, it could be created by computers which give you sight, touch, hearing, and even smell.

Augmented reality, which is the pokemon connection is, in fact, a computer simulation on top of real life. So in the case of pokemon, you are wandering down the street, you can see an image of what's in front of you but a pokemon character - whatever they call it because I don't play the game -  will appear in front of you and you are trying to find those. That has a massive adoption recently - I believe about 20 million people are playing it already. It was only released two weeks ago - phenomenal!

Georgia - Yes, servers are completely down. I know this because I was trying to find pokemon in the studio earlier and then it broke. So is this changing gaming?

Peter - Yes. First of all the reason it's suddenly become adopted so much is because of mobile phone technology which allows great video, accelerometer, low cost and everything. Gaming - yes I had a look at that and I'm a bit surprised. And a big survey of nearly 20,000 gamers, only 15% said they'd buy something that was virtual reality and that might be to do with cost, unlike some of the ones we're just about to look at which are £10 each, the high end ones can be many hundreds of pounds or even low thousands. But I well imagine when these prices come down in a short time, a year or two, many gamers will be using virtual reality.

Georgia - So how does it work? We've got a couple of examples with us here in the studio...

Peter - Which we are going to switch on in a moment. Basically, virtual reality works much better. Clearly when you've got binocular vision which means a screen - we're both using mobile phones - is split in two so each eye sees a different image. That method of doing it then allows you to create depth so you can actually see around. Then the accelerometer and the GPS inside the phone, and the compass allow you to move your head around so you can look up, down and it will give you a different image based on that. So rebuild the screen based on that.

Georgia - I see. So I've slipped my phone into this cardboard contraption - it's very simple. It's just folded cardboard with two little glass goggles and you stick it on your face and I've gone on a tightrope simulator. I don't know why I did that because I despise heights. But when you move your head it around it really does look like you're there. I'm looking round and I think it's the Grand Canyon I'm tightroping across at the moment.

Peter - Yeah and I'm in a different one. Excuse me if I move away from the microphone but I've just come out of a cage in a load of sharks and the sharks are swimming around me.  Ooops...

Georgia - You went into the microphone there.

Peter - So looking up and down I can see divers there below me and above me and I can see sharks that are apparently going to attack me - I think!

Georgia - So apart from the perils of whacking into my microphone, and I suppose we both look quite stupid as well holding these big cardboard boxes to our heads. But what kind of things do they need to work on for this to work?

Peter - The two big ones are the fact that computing power isn't probably quite fast enough. So what's called rendering, which is rebuilding the image, can be a bit slow and when we tried it earlier with different generations of a particular phone, we found quite big differences between those but it's getting there, the technology is getting there.

The other this is the sort of nausea or balance issues. When you've got this on you've got no means of connecting yourself with the real environment particularly if you've got some sensing device on - gloves or something - you're completely immersed in that. In the way that some people are more affected by being on a boat, and some people are more affected by reading in a car, there will be some people who suffer more from it than others.

There are also a few other things as well. There's obviously the input devices ,which I think Graihagh's going to be talking about later, how to actually interact. And secondly possibly addiction. You know you can quite enjoy being in your virtual environment compared with normality...

Georgia - And what about outside the world of gaming what kind of use can these have?

Peter - I've used on AR effectively to read a menu recently. So this is where you point it at a menu and it's translating the food in real time in front of you. If you are in Russia are something it's very easy if you don't speak Russian. But there's lots of sensible applications. Some military, medicine, tourism, archaeology. Can you imagine architecture wandering through a building that you're designing. To be able to see it before it's actually been built.

Georgia - Save money I suppose if you didn't like the design!

Peter - Exactly. Change the design, exactly, yeah.

19:34 - How to make virtual touch

How can we simulate touch in a virtual environment?

How to make virtual touch
with Paul Rinne, Imperial College, Blake Hannaford, Washington University and Alex Russomanno, University of Michigan

Our current crop of virtual reality relies heavily on visual and audio, but could handwe ever create virtual touch? This is what's known among scientists as haptics and Graihagh Jackson made it her mission at the  to find out at the Eurohaptics conference which took place this week... First up though - to re-create touch, you need to know what it is and how it works and that's where Imperial's Paul Rinne helped Graihagh out...

Paul - From my medical background, touch is incredibly important. So simple, make a cup of tea. If you're not able to sense the heat of the cup, if you're not able to sense the pressure of how you hold the cup, you can't perform these daily tasks.

Graihagh - So I suppose an example is: I have a handbag full of rubbish and I'm trying to find my keys, and I'm rummaging around in that bag. So what is it about feeling those keys that makes me able to identify that they are in fact keys?

Paul - Our sort of interface with the world is our skin, and within our skin we have a number of different sensors and receptors. These can range from pressure receptors to thermal, so cool or hot, stretch receptors, for example. And it's actually these receptors when we start touching objects and we start interacting with them that they send signals up through our nerves, through our spine to our brain, to an area called the somatosensory cortex, and it's up in that area of the brain that all this information is processed. And we're able to suddenly distinguish, for example, between different temperatures of objects, different edges of objects, how hard an object is, how soft it is, and that's where we're able to start distinguishing these things.

Graihagh - So my snotty tissues from my keys?

Paul - So you're snotty tissues from your keys, yes!

Graihagh - So we've managed to hack, if you like, or mimic vision and sound so why is it so hard to then mimic touch?

Paul - It's an incredibly complicated process. It all stems down to the neuroscience of it; we need to try and work out the processes of how these receptors work, how the nerves work and, ultimately, when we go up into the brain the processes of what is firing, what signals are being sent to different parts of the brain.

Graihagh - There's a reason why neuroscience is called the last frontier. There's more we don't know about the brain than we currently do know but this hasn't hampered hatics. In fact, the conference was littered with demos so the University of Washington's Blake Hannaford and I, we sat down to try out the latest electronic braille with Michigan's Alex Russomanno...

Alex - A large reason for this is that for blind people, it's very difficult for them to access digital content and the way they read is real braille and they way they can interact with any graphics has to be via touch. And so what we're trying to do is create a large display, where that display has pixels but those pixels are features that raise up and down on a surface that you can feel.

Graihagh - Alex had a small square prototype - 8 pins across by 7, and these pins they pop up and down kind of like whacamole. So, in theory, this could kind of be like the future of Kindle but for the blind. To demonstrate its versatility though, Alex didn't show Blake and I a series of braille letters but, actually, a game of snake.

Alex - I don't know if you remember the original Nokia cellphones used to have that snake game...

Graihagh - Except with Alex's game, instead of seeing the snake eat the apple, you feel it. And this is hard, actually really hard and I was completely useless. Blake fared a little bit better though...

Blake - My eyes are closed..

Alex - And it's all restarted.

Blake - I'm kinda getting it now.

Graihagh - Now that you're playing it as a blind person would, I can't actually see if you're winning or losing, so you know you could just be...

Blake - I'm sort of giving random inputs to the game.

Graihagh - So this is one way that haptics could work in that you are physically moving things underneath your fingertips but how else might you recreate a sensation?

Blake - Well there's tactile, which is like feeling textures and small shapes and edges as they deform the skin of your fingers and we're very sensitive. Somebody just said today that there's 2,000 tactile sensors in each fingertip that we have and that's a lot, and another is temperature displays. Suppose you had three objects that are the same shape and they weigh the same but they're made of different materials. You can still tell because a metal object will feel colder than a wood object even if they're at the same temperature. The metal absorbs heat faster out of your fingers so people are studying that phenomenon to see if that can give more realism to a touch sensation.

Graihagh - That's pretty cool, hey?

Blake - Yes, that's why we're all here. We all think it's cool and that's why we're crazy enough to work on this for 25 years.

Graihagh - What do you think is going to be the most exciting developments that you think are going to happen in the next few years?

Blake - Well, you know we're at at a very exciting period right now for virtual reality. There's this whole second wave of startups: the Oculus Rift, the Vibe, the Samsung, all these companies and when you interact with a nice visual, immersive virtual reality you really become aware that you lack the haptics. You see cool objects out there, you reach out and your hand goes right through it and that's not reality and so I see a lot of rapid progress sooner. The full holodeck that would fool you into believing that it's real, that will be further.

wolves sitting down

26:36 - Wolves were domesticated twice

New evidence suggests wolves were domesticated twice, but how and why did this occur?

Wolves were domesticated twice
with Greger Larson, University of Oxford

How did wolves turn into dogs? Humans and wolves have been interacting Wolvestogether for as long as both species have been on the planet, but the first evidence of dog-like characteristics appearing is about 15,000 years ago. But what caused this? Well, just last month a study uncovered a revelation about this domestication - it happened more than once! I spoke to Greger Larson from Oxford University to see what he had dug up...

Greger - The first big thing that we've just discovered is by sequencing a genome of a 4,800 year old dog from Ireland. From that we were then able to compare that very conclusively to all the modern genomes that have been sequenced and that then, through the analysis, through the phylogenetic trees and molecular clocks, and looking at the pattern of different genetic signatures in time and space made us think that perhaps dogs were domesticated not once as being previously suspected by a lot of geneticists, but twice.

Georgia - What are the implications of this domestication happening twice?

Greger - Well if it's happened twice that makes it go from being something like an accident - I mean anything can happen once. But as soon as it twice on several thousand miles, several thousand kilometers apart from each other, it seems like maybe it sort of lends an inevitability to this that makes it seem like there was a set of environmental circumstances that was the same over a very wide range wherein people and wolves started interacting in a way that they hadn't done for the last 150,000 years prior to that. And that interaction, and that sort of romantic dance, as it were, between the wolf population and the human population getting used to one another and partnering up in a way that they hadn't done before that led to what we now know as domestic dogs.

Georgia - Do we know about how this came about?

Greger - We don't really. What we can guess from looking at comparisons and using analogues from the rest of the natural world. So, one hypothesis that we've been talking about recently is this idea that there were potentially different wolf ecomorphs, and by that I mean different populations of wolves that were specialising based upon the kind of they that they were going after. In the same way that there are killer whales off the northwest coast of North America, some pods go after salmon, some pods go after seals, and they don't really like each other, they don't really talk to each other. When calves are born they're raised in either seal eating or salmon eating and they kind of know that the other killer whales are out there but they don't really talk to them that much, and we know that wolves are very capable of this. There are very well known wolves that are on the TV every week that hunt caribou, but there's other wolf populations that don't go anywhere near the caribou and subsist of completely different resources in forested environments.

So what we suspect might be happening is that about 15,000, maybe a few thousand years before that, maybe two independent wolf populations started following people rather than following anything else, or rather than trying to get resources in any other means, and getting used to that human niche. And in doing so would start to protect that human niche and that would initiate reduction in the gene flow between that wolf population and wolf populations that were doing other things. That may have activated this process of domestication very early on which wouldn't require any initiation from people who were acting intentionally in goal directed fashion to try and generate a chihuahua puppy from a wild wolf, which of course they couldn't have known about because there were no domestic animals.

Georgia - So while one group of wolves made its living from following humans, others did not and the two groups wouldn't have interbred so started to change. The wolves who hung around humans need different characteristics t do well: having low fear and low aggression. And, over time, this relationship became more and more entrenched and people started selecting which dogs would live and which would die, and selecting for tameness also changed the wolves in other ways...

Greger - There was an experiment in the '50s in Siberia, where they were just selecting for foxes solely on the basis of how a lack of fear and a lack of aggression that the demonstrated when someone put a hand into a cage. And they only selected those animals that had the least amount of fear, or the most curious, and the most friendly and within a couple of dozen generations, those foxes started looking like a lot of the characteristics that domestic dogs have. They started getting smaller overall, they had differences in their shapes, and their coat colours, and their snouts, and they started barking. So it was a very clear demonstration that simply by selecting for a tame behaviour you can get all of these changes that we recognise as what we call the domestication syndrome.

Georgia - And so wolves started to become dogs. But why did humans tolerate these animals being around in the first place?

Greger - You are much better able to exact resources and to get calories out of an environment when you've got a wolf partner. And here are many instances where from Japan to Southern Scandinavia to even the southeast corner of the U.S in the mesolithic, prior to the advent of agriculture or at least prior to agriculture arriving in those areas, where people are burying their dogs with more grave goods than they're burying with a lot of people. I mean seriously, these dogs are being revered as very hugely important members of society - as equals, or in some cases even better than some of the people.

So there was a clear partnership there and you would only do that if those dogs were very important to your well being in those environments . There's lots of speculation about how they were used in hunting and clearly they have much better olfactory capabilities than we do.  And if you were able to cut an animal with a microblade on a long stick and then the animal runs, it's hard for us to find if it runs in a dense forest but dogs have an amazing sense of smell and would be able track them down and that would lead the humans to them and boom... you've got dinner!

Georgia - Man's best friend indeed! And dog's were the very first domestication in human history. It was the start of a trend which led to life as we know it.

Greger - So until you have domestication you certainly don't have the capability of humans expanding their population sizes to afford the kinds of technological advances that we've seen over the last 10,000 years.

32:38 - Can dogs understand emotions?

Dogs have the rare ability to tell emotional expressions apart, and not only for each other, but for humans.

Can dogs understand emotions?
with Natalia Albuquerque, University of Lincoln

Many dog owners will say they know what mood their dog is in, or their dog instinctively knows when to cheer them up. This may sound like anthropomorphising, and some of it is,  but dogs have actually been shown to be able to tell facial expressions of humans apart. Natalia Albuquerque, from the University of Lincoln, joined Kat Arney to explain why she was interested in this ability.

Natalia - I think we all agree that the dog/human relationship is very, very, special and is particularly interesting also from a scientific point of view, and we already knew that dogs were able to discriminate facial expressions. For example, they know the difference between a smiley face and a blank face and they would behave differently towards different facial expressions of emotional expressions. But, at the same time, we didn't know, we had no evidence of whether dogs could actually obtain emotional information from those faces. That means, for example, one thing is knowing that visually a spoon is different from a fork, but knowing that what is a fork and what is a spoon. So we wanted to see if dogs could have any kind of understanding of what is a facial expression, and what is our voice, and what is our vocalisations.

Kat - How do you go about testing this? Do you just go - how do I look dog - do I look happy?

Natalia - So what we did - everything was very spontaneous. There was no training, there was no familiarisation phase involved. The dogs were sitting in front of two screens and on each screen there was a facial expression being presented from the same individual. So on one screen there would be a happy face and on the other screen would be an angry face, and at the same time we would play a sound that could be either a neutral sound, as a control, or a vocalisation, so of the voice. So a human being, for example, saying something in a happy manner or...

Kat - Good dogs, good dog.

Natalia - Yes.

Kat - Or bad dog, naughty dog.

Natalia - So we controlled from the content and we actually wanted to see if they could obtain this information from the emotional perspective.

Kat - So what do you find - how are dogs interpreting this stuff?

Natalia - In that case, we would expect if an individual can recognise what is a facial expression; whether it is positive or negative - at least the main categories. Positive versus negative - happy versus angry, for example. In that scenario, in that set-up, we would expect the individual to look longer towards the happy facial expression upon listening to the happy voice, and longer towards the angry facial expression when listening to the angry voice.

Kat - So they're kind of matching up what they're seeing with what they're hearing?

Natalia - Yes, perfect! In that case, for example, if you can't see anything but if you listen to someone laughing we would expect to see someone smiling because that voice comes with that image.

Kat - So you're finding that dogs can do this - they can kind of go oh, that seemed happy, that seems angry?  Why can they do this - what's the point of dogs being able to do this?

Natalia - Yes, that's a very interesting question. And I think the first point is from an evolutionary point of view, from an evolutionary perspective, it's very important to be able to read not only facial expressions but the emotional expressions. For example, if you're part of a social group, especially in a complex social system, so it's very interesting, it's very adaptive, and biologically advantageous if you can read the other members of your group's emotions. In that case, to know who should I approach, who should I avoid. That member of my group is angry, is happy and that would be very interesting. And dogs are naturally social so we believe that this was a cognitive ability they already had to interact with members of the same species with other dogs. In that case with wolves and ancestors, and probably during their domestication, this shared evolutionary period with human beings, they may have developed it, refined this. So to read emotions from other individuals may have been selected and this may be the key for dog/human interaction.

Kat - You said there that maybe this has come because dogs could recognise the emotions of dogs or wolves as they were. So dogs have emotions then?

Natalia - Yes, that's another...

Kat - Like good day, bad day, miserable day?

Natalia - So in the emotion research area we have two groups of emotions. So we have basic emotions - sadness, anger happiness, and we have the more complex and secondary emotions such as jealousy, guilt. And as far as we know, dogs have all the basic emotions so they can have a happy mood, or playful, or aggressive but we have already some evidence that they may have some kind of more complex emotions as well.

Kat - Lots of dog owners will say they know their dog has done something naughty because they just look at it and that thing looks guilty. Do dogs really feel guilt or are we just projecting?

Natalia - Yes. There's only a few studies been done looking into that and, as far as we know from those studies, that usually the guilty look is more in anticipation of a punishment. So that when we recognise that they did do something wrong they would look like - oh no, I think I'm going to be punished and we're not sure whether they actually feel guilt. That guilty look may be more of a learned response towards - oh no my owner said what did you do and then the dogs just like - oh no I'm going to be punished.

39:01 - The problem with pedigree

Has our obsession with 'purebreeds' negatively impacted dogs' qualities of life?

The problem with pedigree
with Jane Ladlow, Cambridge University

During the Victorian times humans started selecting for much more extreme looks and sizes for our dogs - creating so called 'pedigrees'. But this has caused problems: it has resulted in some breeds having extreme features, like short legs or long bodies, that can affect their quality of life, and what's more - when you breed from a narrow gene pool, genetic defects or inherited disease become common and widespread. And while people fork out a fortune for a pedigree dog, each breed has its own set of problems they are likely to suffer from, such as tumours, arthritis or breathing problems. Georgia Mills wanted to know more about one such disease - one suffered by pugs and bulldogs,  which causes them to struggle breathing, so went to Cambridge Veterinary school, to meet Jane Ladlow, who is investigating this disease and trying to set about solving it...

Jane - The disease that we are interested in is Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome - that seems to be an issue in the smaller dogs that have the very, very short faces. So we look at the three extreme brachycephalic dog and we think of these as the pug, the bulldog, and the French bulldog. And they've been bred to look very appealing to people and they way they do this is they make the nose shorter, larger eyes, and a little bit more like a human baby face. They have become exceptionally popular in the last few years. So it used to be that you'd expect to see 4 or 5,000 particularly French bulldogs around and now you will see 10 times that amount so a very, very, popular breed.  And that means you're starting off with quite a small number of breeding stock and that your using them more and we're also getting more dogs in from different countries and we're not sure about their health. So it's a population explosion that is causing quite a lot of the problems we're seeing.

Georgia - And what are these problems causing for the dogs?

Jane - We look particularly at the breathing, and what's happened in some of these dogs is as their skull has reduced in it's length, the soft tissues within the skull have not reduced in the same way and this means they have areas of obstruction in their upper airway and you can hear this. Many people think it's normal to hear a bulldog snorting as it walks past you, but that indicates there are levels of obstruction in that airway.

Georgia - That's horrible! So all this soft tissue is crammed into this much smaller space meaning the air just finds it really hard to get through?

Jane - Exactly - that's exactly it.

Georgia - This is something you study here. How are you looking into this?

Jane - We started quite a few years ago now. So the problem with this disease is that it's a very difficult disease to measure. Doing functional breathing tests on dogs is more complicated than humans because they won't cooperate in the same way. With humans you can say breath into this tube and you can get spirometer readings but with dogs, if you handle them or put a face mask on them, you can alter their breathing. So unless you can actually measure what a normal dog is like, and what an affected dog is like, then you can't really determine how many dogs are affected, and how badly they're affected. And also, for me, I had no real idea how well these dogs were responding to treatment.

Now we used to look at owner questionnaires, and owner questionnaires are useful but many owners don't recognise the disease symptoms in their dogs. So there has been some work done that has shown 60% of owners do not really recognise the signs of obstructive airway disease

We tried lots of different techniques: we tried  a treadmill and that wasn't very good because bulldogs went off the end, and we tried putting tapes round them to measure how their respiratory functions alter in the thoracic wall in the abdomen, but many of our dogs are barrel chested and the tapes move. So, after trying lots of different ways of trying to measure respiratory function in these dogs, we came up with a new technique which we call plethysmography - whole body plethysmography.

Georgia - Jane showed me the kit they used for this technique. There's a clear plastic box with a comfy doggie bag inside. The dog settles down in the box and the pressure changes inside are measured and recorded on a laptop. This then shows how much air the dog can get in and out of their lungs and how efficiently. I wanted to see the box in action so we recruited willing bulldog Ronnie...

Hello! Hello! No don't eat the microphone! Oh you are friendly and a bit smelly!

Jane - We did have one dog that we used to have a temperature probe in the chamber and one dog ate it. So all our probes now are outside the chamber...

Georgia - Once Ronnie had settled down in the box, we could watch his breathing traces in real time. This technique has allowed Jane and her team to quantifiably estimate how bad an individual case may be. And after testing over 800 dogs, it looks like up to 60% of pugs and 50% of bulldogs have this disease, which isn't good.

Jane - Unfortunately we're not sure what proportion of animals die from Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome because they are often just recorded as acute deaths.  And it's also reported as heat stroke because another thing these animals can't do if you're not panting and breathing effectively, then you're not cooling yourself down properly.  So it's often put down as acute death or heat stroke, but certainly a proportion of them would be exasperated by their respiratory obstruction.

Georgia - Ah because yes, dogs can't sweat can they - they lose it all through panting?

Jane - Yes, so panting is vital and this is why you will hear a lot of information about not taking out Brachycephalics in the heat of the day, which is sensible, but it's a little bit of  shame that we have to look after them so carefully because they have breathing issues.

Georgia - What else can we do about this?

Jane - Well, if you have an affected dog, then we can manage the disease in a number of different ways. So we can be careful about when we exercise, we can use coats that keep the animals cool, and then for dogs that require more help we have surgical procedures.

The other thing that we are looking at in the longer term; we have Dr David Sargan working on the genetics of this disease and we are hopeful that in the future the geneticists may be able to offer some guidance to the breeders. I don't think it will be simple yes or no affected tests, but it might be an estimated breeding value where you could look at a couple of dogs and you can say, ok well if you breed this particular dog with this particular dog then your odds of having affected progeny are so much, and that will at least give breeders a lot more of an idea of how to improve the health of the breed. So I think longer term we do need to look at trying to support the breeds and improving the health.

The other discussion is whether we bring some different blood into some of these breeds, which is a very difficult question because for a number of the pug breeders, it's the pugs we're particularly thinking of, it's a very emotive area that you shouldn't really change the breed, but maybe that's a faster way to improve the breathing.  But these are questions that the Kennel Club will have to think about.

Georgia - Should people who care about animal welfare buys pugs and bulldogs if this is such a big problem?

Jane - I think you have to be exceptionally careful where you get a brachycephalic dog from. So if I was going to buy a brachycephalic dog, I would go and I would look at the mother;  I would ask to look at the father and have some idea of their breathing. I wouldn't just want photo's I'd actually want to go and visit the parents. I'd want to see some other bulldogs, or French bulldogs, or pugs that have been produced by those breeders, and I'd like to see the dogs exercising and having a normal life. There are good dogs out there. However, unless you're going to do your homework very carefully, you do have a risk of having a dog that has this horrible problem.

46:50 - How smart is your dog?

Could clever canines hold the key to understanding Alzheimer's disease?

How smart is your dog?
with Rosalind Arden, London School of Economics

Dogs don't have the brightest reputation, sniffing and eating things they definitelyDog shouldn't, barking at ghosts or getting stuck under cupboards. But is this fair? Dogs actually do a huge range of things many animals struggle with - we heard earlier they are good at recognising human emotions, but also they can remember lots of human words, and can be trained to do all sorts of things. So how smart, really, is your dog? Rosalind Arden, from the London School of Economics has been investigating ways to test dog intelligence, and also how this might provide insights into human disease. She took Kat Arney through her research, with help from special guest Bounder, and her owner Carol.

Kat - So is Bounder an intelligent dog do you think?

Carol - Well out of our three dogs that we've had she's the most intelligent, definitely! She's been easier to train than our last two but she's very driven by food so, if there's food involved, she will probably have a go at doing something but otherwise, perhaps not.

Kat - She's been so good just sitting here very quietly. Can we do a few tricks - let's do just a couple of tricks?

Carol - High five!.

Kat - Oh that's so cute. She's just put both paws up on your hand.

Carol - Lie down, roll over.

Kat - Here we go -  this is great radio! Can we do a noisy one?

Carol - And the last one - speak.

Bounder - Ruff, ruff.

Carol - Oh a bit better.

Bounder - Ruff!

Carol - Oh, well done!

Kat - Excellent. Thank you. So Rosalind would you say that Bounder's an intelligent dog? How do you test intelligence in a dog?

Rosalind - I'm actually feeling slightly shocked. I think Bounder's more intelligent than some of my children. It's rather shocking.

Kat - How would you test that then - how would you test how smart a dog is?

Rosalind - So the key thing is we wanted to find out if dogs vary from one another in intelligence, so we came up with a few different tests that we could administer to a group of dogs. And we used something called a detour test, can a dog find some food that it can see that's hidden behind a barrier. Can a dog discriminate between two different quantities and we assume that when it comes to food and dogs, more equals better, and then can a dog follow a human making a pointing gesture and go to a bowl which has got a treat in it where the human's pointing at that bowl.

Kat - Right, so we have two bowls here and we have a dog so let's do this test. So we've broken the biscuits. We've got a biscuit in each of these two small bowls; they're going on the floor...

Rosalind - Take her back a bit.

Kat - Okay, right.

Rosalind - Now sit. Take her back a bit.

Kat - OK. We're trying to make sure she goes to one of these bowls...

Rosalind - Oh Bounder, that's astounding!

Kat - Very good dog!. So Bounder has gone to the bowl you were pointing at even though there was a biscuit in the other bowl. What does that show?

Rosalind - Exactly. So in front of me on the floor there were two bowls each with a treat in -the same size treat - and I pointed at one of the bowls only. And Bounder looked at me and she recognised that I wanted her to go the bowl that I was pointing at and she just immediately went there. So we know one thing will tell you whether a dog is intelligent or less bright but if you do lots of general tests you can get a sense of whether or not the dog is... as Carol said - trainable.

Kat - And what can this actually tell us studying dogs intelligence, working out what they know, how they think about the world? I mean, obviously, dogs are cool and awesome, but what use is this kind of research?

Rosalind - Absolutely, a very good question. So it's not just having fun with dogs and treats although that's a marvellous way to spend your life. We were interested partly because dogs, unlike many other mammals, they get dementia like we do, and their brain changes are very much like our brain changes when our brain's get dementia as we age and develop that disease, and so we wanted to find out if there's a way of measuring changes in dog's cognition. If you could measure what a dog's like when it's young and healthy, it would be a terrific way to be able to measure that change as it goes through life and then see if there's some deficit as the dog gets older, and maybe dogs can help us understand dementia and that's really what we're driving at in the future.

Kat - So from your experiments - what's dog intelligence like? I mean there's all these discussions about what human intelligence and cognition is like. What do we know about how dogs think?

Rosalind - That's a good question. So what we were looking at is: is a dog that catches on quickly at one task likely to catch on quickly at a completely different task? So we don't compare dogs with people or dogs with chimpanzees or other kinds of primates. We say, given that you're a dog, the kinds of things that you can do - say find your way round a barrier, navigate through space, discriminate between quantities - is your likelihood of being good at one of those things going to predict, to some extent, your likelihood of being good at another of them. So what we're really getting at here is the fact that with people - if you ask any teacher they'll agree with this - that a big classroom full of children, there will be some kids who just catch onto everything a bit more quickly than others. Now we wanted to know is that also true in dogs? Can we sort of give them a rank order in how quickly they apprehend something?

Kat - And so are there doggie Einstein's out there like genius dog -  got it?

Rosalind - There really likely are. It seems most likely, from what we know currently, that dog's intelligence is distributed somewhat like ours. That most of us are kind of in the middle, and some of us are really, really smart - that's you Bounder - and some of us are a bit less than average.

Kat - And if you just had one tip for people (dog owners) to train their dog, to make it behave a bit better, or do tricks or do what they want it to do, is there sort of one top tip that you've got?

Rosalind - Be consistent!. It's really easy to just give in and do whatever, but be consistent. And when the dog does the thing that you want it to do - if it's come for example (the recall) -  never tell a dog off when it comes to you.

Kat - And in terms of dogs, do we understand from their brains, very briefly, why they are so smart?

Rosalind - We think it's probably because they have co-evolved with us. They've been our partners for maybe 30,000 years and so they've learnt to read our signals, to read our emotions, and to take account of our voice, and so we're very much partners with dogs.

Kat - That is a wonderful thing. Do you have a dog.

Rosalind - Yes, a border collie called Jenny but she's living with a friend at the moment.

Kat - Is she a smart dog?

Rosalind - Of course she is!

The moon taken by Appolo 12

54:18 - How did the moon get its markings?

Listener Loot asked how the Moon got its markings, so we looked to the sky for an answer.

How did the moon get its markings?

[Transcript to follow]


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