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Humans May Have Turned Dogs Into Bad Problem-Solvers

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Bad news for man's best friend: they're not as smart as they used to be. According to findings published in the most recent issue of Biology Letters, domesticated dogs may have become bad problem-solvers as a consequence of their happy cohabitation with people. In our quest to create perfectly loyal, perfectly tame companions, we may unwittingly have bred the smarts right out of them.

Previous studies have indicated that domesticated dogs and the wolves they evolved from exhibit radically different approaches to tough obstacles. When presented with an impenetrable box of food, both dogs and wolves tested naturally made an initial attempt to get at its tantalizing contents. It wasn't until a few minutes had passed that the two groups' behavior diverged. While the wolves persisted in scrabbling away at the box, unable or unwilling to admit the futility of their attacks, the dogs quickly sat back and looked to the nearest human. Such behavior could be interpreted as a marker of higher intelligence, in that the dogs were both able to recognize when a task was insurmountable and clever enough to seek assistance from a more capable body. The researchers appraised this "looking behavior" as an indicator of domesticated dogs' ability to communicate effectively with humans. However, the very same act might also indicate a readiness to give up too quickly when the going gets tough.

Researcher Monique Udell, assistant professor of animal and rangeland sciences at Oregon State University, wanted to determine whether or not this human-dependent behavior persisted even when the dogs should have been able to solve their problems on their own. She rigged up a plastic container containing some tempting sausage bits, which should have been accessible with enough pawing, biting, and determination. In addition to two groups of pet dogs and human-friendly (relatively speaking) wolves, Udell also tested a group of shelter dogs: Canis lupus familiaris like the pet dogs, but wary of human contact like the wolves.

Each group had three chances to get into the box: first alone in the room with nothing but their animal wits, then in the presence of a familiar human, and finally with verbal encouragement from their human. In the absence of humans, not a single pet dog managed to get into the box, though one shelter dog and nearly all the wolves did. Once their owners made an appearance, the pets performed nearly as poorly— in contrast to the eight of ten wolves who enjoyed their sausage treat, just one pet dog did. All the dogs, pet and shelter alike, gave up much more quickly than the wolves, looking to their respective humans instead of continuing to struggle. When those same humans finally provided verbal, if not physical, assistance, four of nine shelter dogs and one of eight pet dogs finally succeeded. Even those who didn't at least spent more time trying than they had in other trials.

Udell calls the domesticated dogs' readiness to seek help rather than attack the problem "a conditioned inhibition of problem-solving behavior." In other words, humans have spoiled dogs. Rather than fending for themselves, as wolves do, dogs have become secure in the belief that there will always be a human to help.

[h/t Smithsonian Magazine]

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There’s No Safe Amount of Time to Leave a Dog in a Hot Car
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We often think of dogs as indomitable and durable animals who can fend off attackers, tirelessly chase Frisbees, and even eat poop without digestive consequences.

It’s true that dogs generally have a solid constitution, but that shouldn’t lead you to believe they can endure one of the biggest mistakes a pet owner can make: Leaving them in a hot car, even for a few minutes, puts a dog’s life at serious risk.

Even on relatively cool days with temperatures around 71.6°F, the inside of a vehicle can reach 116.6°F within an hour, as Quartz highlights.

If it’s a scorching summer heat wave, an 80-degree day will see temperatures get up to 99°F in just 10 minutes; a 90-degree day can turn the car into an oven at 119°F in the same amount of time.

Dogs can't tolerate this kind of heat. As their bodies struggle to cool down, the temperature is often more than they can expel through panting and opening capillaries in the skin. If their body reaches a temperature of 105.8°F, they're at risk of heatstroke, which only half of dogs survive. At 111.2°F, a lack of blood circulation can cause kidney failure and internal bleeding. Brain damage and death is very likely at this point. Depending on the outside temperature, it can happen in as little as six minutes. Cracking windows won't help.

Unless you plan on leaving your vehicle running with the air conditioning on (and we don't recommend that), there’s really no safe amount of time to leave a pet inside. If you do come back to find a listless dog who is unresponsive, it’s best to get to a veterinarian as soon as possible. And if you’re a bystander who sees a dog trapped inside a car, alert the nearest store to try and make an announcement to get the owner back to the vehicle. You can also phone local law enforcement or animal control. In some states, including California, you’re legally allowed to enter a vehicle to rescue a distressed animal.

[h/t Quartz]

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Potato-Based Pet Food Could Be Linked to Heart Disease in Dogs
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If you have a pup at home, you may want to check the ingredients listed on that bag of dog food in your cupboard. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has warned that potato-based pet foods might be linked to heart disease in dogs, Time reports.

Foods containing lentils, peas, and other legume seeds are also a potential risk, the agency’s Center for Veterinary Medicine announced.

“We are concerned about reports of canine heart disease, known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), in dogs that ate certain pet foods containing peas, lentils, other legumes or potatoes as their main ingredients,” Martine Hartogensis of the veterinary center said in a statement. “These reports are highly unusual as they are occurring in breeds not typically genetically prone to the disease.”

Recent cases of heart disease have been reported in various breeds—including golden and Labrador retrievers, miniature schnauzers, a whippet, a shih tzu, and a bulldog—and it was determined that all of the dogs had eaten food containing potatoes, peas, or lentils.

While heart disease is common in large dogs like Great Danes and Saint Bernards, it’s less common in small and medium-sized breeds (with the exception of cocker spaniels). If caught early enough, a dog’s heart function may improve with veterinary treatment and dietary changes, the FDA notes. While the department is still investigating the potential link, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid foods containing these ingredients until further notice.

As shown by the recent romaine lettuce scare linked to E. coli, the FDA is unable to request a food recall unless a specific manufacturer or supplier can be identified as the source of contamination. Instead, public notices are generally issued to warn consumers about a certain food while the agency continues its probe.

[h/t Time]

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