Canine Science Forum
5-9 July 2008
Budapest, Hungary

Invited speakers

Last modified: 10/06/2008

Paul McGreevy

University of Sydney, Faculty of Veterinary Science

‘Dogs forever! – A sustainable role for them as companions and co-workers’

The time seems right for a multidisciplinary approach to canine science, one that takes the research agenda beyond mere control and therapy and examines how we can get the best out of dogs by helping them to help us. There is a compelling argument that our interdependence with dogs has been so great, we may even have co-evolved. At the same time, our expectations of dogs and the ways we breed, treat and train them are not necessarily based on a comprehensive understanding of their lives. So perhaps while asking where dogs came from, we should also be asking where are we taking them and how can research guide us?
The importance of dogs is becoming better recognised. Their role as companions and their potential to improve human well-being is a constant source of interest, especially for the pet industry and the media. However, dogs’ ability to compromise human health and welfare is perhaps less well documented, so we must strike a balance. We need to pursue an understanding of the ugly stuff so that the bond between dogs and their humans can be enhanced by strategic selection, appropriate management and continuing education. This approach will always inform what humans can expect of their dogs and what dogs can reasonably be expected to deliver.
The place of dogs in human contexts may be changing. The notion of a high-quality bond may ultimately prevail over the idea that every home is enhanced by having a dog in it. This is fuelled by the emergence of better indicators of welfare in domestic dogs. Crude measures of longevity and behavioural wastage (those dogs leaving the owned dog population, via being abandoned, surrendered and euthanased because of their ‘inappropriate’ behaviour) still have their place, but cross-pollination with the medical profession is giving us a better grasp on how to assess ‘Quality of Life’ for dogs. The prospect of further co-evolution is both fascinating and speculative. We cannot say what the domestic dogs of the future will look like because we do not know what the humans of the future will look like, need and therefore value. That said, there are many reasons to believe that dogs have a bright future in the ecological niche we call home.

Robert Wayne

University of California, Departmentof Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Evolutionary genomics of the dog and dog-like carnivores

Robert Wayne, John Pollinger, Klaus Koepfli, Carolyne Bardeleben, Melissa Gray, Carlos Bustamante, Bridgett vonHoldt, Nate Sutter and Elaine Ostrander

The availability of complete or nearly complete genome sequences of the dog have permitted new insights into the evolutionary history and population genetics of the dog and dog-like carnivores. We show how analysis of the dog genome has allowed the identification of rapidly evolving genome sequences that have facilitated the construction of a high resolved canid family tree. The tree comprises all but three of the living canid species and identifies several puzzling relationships. Further, analysis of the canine genome finds genes that are highly polymorphic between closely related species and useful for systematic and population genetic studies. We describe a novel analysis at the population level of variation in wolves and domestic dogs using the new canine 127 SNP microarray. We discuss how such extensive surveys of a wild species provide new insights into their evolutionary history and their relationship to domestic dogs.

James Serpell

University of Pennsylvania, Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society

The Behavioral Basis of Canine-Human Friendship

The quality of any canine-human relationship is determined by the behavior and interactions of both participants—dog and human. This presentation will focus on the dog side of the equation. It is known from previous studies that people’s attachments for their dogs are affected by their perceptions of the animal’s behavior. Behavioral compatibility between dogs and their owners has also been shown to influence the level of psychological benefit and social support that owners derive from these relationships. Finally, it is well established that behavioral problems constitute the single most important factor predisposing people to disown their dogs, either by surrendering them to animal shelters, abandoning them, or otherwise disposing of them.
Using the results of a previously validated online survey of behavior among a population of approximately 9,000 companion dogs, this presentation will explore further the role that behavior plays in both cementing and disrupting the canine-human bond. Analyses of breed differences in behavior suggest that owners are more tolerant of antisocial or problematical canine behavior when it involves small rather than large breed dogs. Behavioral comparisons between the more “primitive” and the more “evolved” breeds may also help to shed light on the kinds of behavior that are selected against during the process of canine evolution.

József Topál

Institute for Psychology, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Understanding the dog: What is it like to be a human’s creation?

One of the popular interpretations of the emergence of the dog among laymen is, that domestication led to an ’artificial’ animal which was created by the man ’in his own image’. In line with this, several questionnaire studies have shown that living together with their dog many of the pet-keepers are disposed to form the subjective impression that the dog is an animal possessing human-like skills. Until recently, behaviour experts put down this approach as one of the striking example of the human’s anthropomorphism leading to non-scientific (non-parsimonious) explanations regarding the behaviour of the dog. In the last few years, however, the growing evidence regarding the dog’s communication skills and other social-cognitive abilities have aroused a great deal of interest among cognitive ethologists and led to a radical change in our attitude to this ’naive view’.
This talk will address the question of how and why this radical change in our view came about.
I will present evidence that social-cognitive abilities of dogs show a wide-ranging correspondence to human social behaviours. Recent findings have shown that dogs often effortlessly ’understand’ what the behaviour of their human partner is about and they identify human communicative behaviours in ways similar to human infants. In this presentation I will focus on one aspect of the functionally analogue behaviours in dogs and humans within the field of social learning: the pedagogical receptivity.
Results suggest that ostensive communicative referential cues provided by the human trigger and facilitate a receptive attitude in the dog. This makes the dog capable of remarkably adeping at learning from humans socially. These results have important implications for the nature and origins of pedagogical receptivity in dogs and show evidence for the dogs’ evolutionary predisposition for reproducing human-analogue forms of social cognitive skills.
Finally I will define the dog behaviour complex as a set of dog-specific traits which were influenced by the behavioural adaptation to the human environment and made the dog be able to perform human analogue forms of social competence.
This approach hopefully provides new insights on the evolutionary processes of the emergence of dogs (caninization) and raises the possibility that this species has the potential to model some aspects of early human behaviour evolution.

Heidi Parker

National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health

Genes for Dogs: More Than a Fashion Statement

The availability of a high quality draft sequence of the dog genome has changed the way geneticists studying companion animals and how we are tackling the problem of finding genes that control complex traits. Of particular interest are genes controlling the morphologic differences which define different domestic dog breeds, genes regulating behavior, and those that increase disease susceptibility.
Central to our ability to use the newly available resources is an understanding of dog breed structure. Here we present a detailed discussion of a new cluster analysis involving 132 American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized breeds and varieties. The completion of this experiment has facilitated our efforts to map disease genes where the same pathologic disorder is present in a small number of breeds, but absent in the remaining majority. We will discuss the application of this approach to the problem of specific cancers occurring in small numbers of related breeds.
Also important is an understanding of the strengths and limitations of the current molecular resources, and consideration of the traits which are likely to lend themselves to mapping using available approaches. We describe our recent efforts to localize genes important in controlling breed-defined fixed morphologic features. This study is built upon the analysis of hundreds of dogs representing more than 75 breeds that were interrogated using the canine specific Affymetrix SNP chip which features 127,000 SNPs. Analysis of these data for association with breed fixed traits identifies loci for a variety of morphologic features including but not limited to body size, skeletal shape. As an example of the power of this approach, we present new data for loci controlling leg morphology and coat type.

Jane Packard

Texas A & M University, Department of Wildlife & Fisheries Sciences

Man meets wolf: ethological perspectives

What might be the ancestral roots of behaviours that predisposed canines to adapt so well to the living conditions of modern human families? This central question has been explored in diverse ways since the early writings of the classical ethologists and still remains an enigma stimulating healthy debate. Since Konrad Lorenz published “Man Meets Dog” in the 1960’s, substantial additional information has been published on the ecology, behaviour and physiology of wolves. In light of the additional knowledge, ethologists are now in a better position to refine testable hypotheses and identify remaining information gaps.
Ethological perspectives address the logic of natural selection by examining the cause, development, evolution and function of behaviours (Packard 2003). These four basic questions, clarified by Niko Tinbergen, will provide a conceptual framework for this review.
Methods. This review of the peer-reviewed literature will integrate insights from personal observations of wolf behaviour under conditions ranging from captivity to montane habitat in Yellowstone and arctic tundra on Ellesmere Island. An inductive approach will draw on the implications of selection favoring large body size and delayed maturation. The comparative method will be used to contrast behavioural tendencies of canine species that vary in body size.
Results. Three developmental phases of juvenile wolf behaviour occur predictably within a social context where individuals learn the contingencies of interaction with family members and their environment: (a) milk dependent (from birth to 5 weeks), (b) transitional (6-9 weeks), and (c) milk independent (after 10-12 weeks).
Discussion. The working hypothesis to be examined, is that the behavioural adaptations of the ancestors of modern canines were shaped by fluctuating environmental conditions. The resulting ability to learn within the social context of an extended family, contrasts with the persistent instinctive behavioural traits that have been shaped through artificial selection of domestic canines. I will discuss how both the flexible and the fixed aspects of canine behaviours may have served as pre-adaptations favouring domestication.

Sabina Nowak

Polish Academy of Sciences, Mammal Research Institute; Association for Nature Wolf

Ecology, behaviour and population genetics of wolves Canis lupus in Poland

Sabina Pieruzek-Nowak,
Association for Nature WOLF, Twardorzeczka, Poland
Wlodzimierz Jedrzejewski,
Mammal Research Institute, Polish Academy of Sciences, Bialowieza, Poland

Polish wolves have been a subject of scientific research since the mid 1980s. Local populations inhabiting Bialowieza Primeval Forest (BPF, NE Poland) and the Carpathians (Bieszczady Mountains, SE Poland, and Beskidy Mountains, S Poland) were intensively studied in respect of population densities, territory size, diet, impact on prey populations, and various aspects of behaviour. In 2000, the National Census of Wolves was initiated and data collected by scientists as well as forestry and national park services formed a basis for a country-scale studies on numbers, population genetics, and habitat use of wolves. In recent years, cooperation among Polish and Eastern European researchers allowed for a biogeographic-scale studies on population genetics of wolves.
In Eastern Poland, population density of wolves varies between big forests from 2 to 4 individuals/100 km². The mean pack size is 4.9 wolves (range 1-12), and most of packs include 4 to 6 wolves. Territories of packs (studied by radio-telemetry and intense snow tracking) ranged from 150 km² in the Carpathians to 250-300 km² in lowlands. Very little overlap (on average 7%) of neighbouring territories was observed. In BPF, variation in territory size was shaped by abundance of wild ungulates, but was not affected by the pack size. In lowlands, wolves travelled, on average, 23 km per day. The shortest daily routes were covered by the breeding females in May, and the longest ones by the dominant males in winter. Studies on territory marking revealed that scats and urine marks were concentrated around the breeding dens. In lowlands, pups were born in excavated dens, whereas in the mountains (rocks, thin layer of soil) – in dense thicket or under the roots of fallen trees. During the pup rearing season wolves frequently changed their denning sites. In Eastern Poland, females rearing young used, on average, 2.25 dens during a 60-day denning period.
Polish wolves preyed mainly on wild ungulates (85-98% of biomass eaten), livestock constituted less than 4% of food biomass. Red deer Cervus elaphus was the main kill (42-80% of biomass), followed by roe deer Capreolus capreolus and wild boar Sus scrofa. In both species of deer, wolves often selected females and juveniles. In wild boar, mainly piglets were eaten. In BPF, a wolf pack killed, on average, 3 ungulates per week. Mean daily food intake was 5.8 kg per wolf and per capita kill rate averaged 42.3 ungulates per year.
Genetical studies on a local population inhabiting Białowieża Forest (Polish part, where wolves have been protected, and Belarussian part with intensely hunted wolves) showed that the typical wolf pack was composed of a family group (two unrelated adults plus their offspring of the current and possibly earlier years). However, the severe hunting of wolves led to instability of packs, fast turnover of individuals, breeding among close relatives, and adoption of lone unrelated individuals by small packs.
Analyses of wolf DNA extracted from feces collected over the whole Poland in 2004-2007, showed a notable isolation of the Carpathian population of wolves from the lowland populations, and suggested that wolves colonizing western part of the country come mostly from the north-eastern part of wolf range. In the whole Central-Eastern Europe, analyses of mitochondrial DNA revealed five distinct subpopulations of wolves. Such genetic differentiation among local populations – in the absence of obvious physical barrier to movement – was correlated with ecological factors: climate, habitat types, and wolf diet composition (dominant species of ungulates).
The contemporary Polish population of wolves is estimated at about 600 individuals. Analyses of the current wolf range and a GIS-based modelling of suitable habitats showed that there is a great potential for development of wolf range and population size. At present, wolves occupy about one-third of suitable habitats, and large, contiguous patches of optimal habitats with abundant prey resources are still available in western Poland.