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Test Helps to Identify Which Puppies Will Make Good Guide Dogs

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Every dog is a good dog. Some are just better helpers than others, and now animal behavior experts have designed a new test that can help spot them early. The researchers published their findings in the journal PLOS One.

Service dog organizations like Guide Dog UK breed lots and lots of puppies every year. But not all those puppies will become guide dogs. Not all puppies want to be, says lead researcher Naomi Harvey of Nottingham University.

"If you've ever owned dogs you will know that every dog is different," Harvey said in a statement. "They have their own characters and personality, which are heavily influenced by their life experiences."

The sooner service dog trainers can separate the service dog candidates from the plain old lay-on-the-couch-and-drool puppies, the better off everyone will be. Being a good service dog requires more than just an aptitude for training; the dogs also have to be calm, focused, and cool under pressure. But accurately determining each puppy's predisposition has been a challenge.

So Harvey and her colleagues created the Puppy Training Supervisor Questionnaire (PTSQ), a behavioral assessment that lets dog trainers get a firm yes or no for each puppy in their care. The questionnaire examines seven key areas of each dog's personality: adaptability, body sensitivity, distractibility, excitability, general anxiety, trainability, and stair anxiety.

The researchers worked with Guide Dogs UK to beta test the questionnaire on 1401 would-be guide dogs. They used the PTSQ when the dogs were five, eight, and 12 months old, then followed up later on to see how each dog had fared.

More than half (58 percent) of the dogs in the study grew up to qualify as guide dogs. About one-quarter (27 percent) were just not cut out for the work, personality-wise, and the others were disqualified for health reasons.

The test accurately spotted small subsets of those future service dogs (8.5 percent) and future dropouts (8.4 percent). While those results may not be overwhelmingly impressive, the questionnaire is cheap, quick, and easy to administer, and it is progress toward more precise screening tests.

Chris Muldoon, the research development manager for Guide Dogs UK, says: "This tool, and the wider research project, is increasing our understanding of dog behavior and temperament to make informed decisions that will shape and improve our training processes."

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Animals
25 Shelter Dogs Who Made It Big
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If you’ve been thinking of adding a four-legged friend to your brood and are deciding whether a shelter dog is right for you, consider this: Some of history’s most amazing pooches—from four-legged movie stars to heroic rescue dogs—were found in animal shelters. In honor of Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month, here are 25 shelter dogs who made it big.

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This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
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Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]

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