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Scientists Say Dogs Like Giving Treats to Their Friends

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Did you need another reason to love dogs? Here’s one: Scientists have shown that pups like giving treats to their friends. 

Why do animals do nice things for each other? It’s called prosocial behavior or altruism, and it’s puzzled scientists for ages. There’s no evolutionary benefit to being generous, but we do it anyway, especially for our loved ones. But we’re hardly alone in our altruism. Rats, jackdaws, and chimpanzees all go out of their way to help their friends and family. Now, a new study shows that dogs do, too.

In a study involving 16 dogs published this week in Scientific Reports, researchers described their experimental setup: a treat dispenser that only worked when a dog pulled on a tray with its teeth. But there was a catch—the dog didn’t get to eat the food itself. Instead, the food was delivered to another dog on the other side of a partition. So the donor dog, as the scientists called it, had a choice: it could feed the other dog, or it could withhold food.

Once the donor dogs learned how to use the contraption, the researchers brought in the would-be snack recipients. Some were dogs the donors knew and liked; others were strangers. 

Time and time again, the donor dogs gave treats to their friends. And the donor dogs weren’t just pulling the tray for the heck of it; when the potential recipient was an unfamiliar dog, the donors were far less likely to dispense a treat.

Were the donors just freaked out by dogs they didn’t know? Nope. Before each test, the dogs had a moment to sniff the air and investigate each other. By treat time, both dogs were completely calm.

To double-check if the presence of stranger dogs was throwing off the donor dogs, the researchers reconfigured the dispenser after each test so that the donor dog would get its own treat for pulling on the tray. Even in the presence of unfamiliar dogs, the donors aced that test every time.

It wasn’t that the unknown dogs were a problem—the donor dogs just really wanted their friends to have treats.

The researchers aren't sure why this is the case. It may be that the donor dogs were hoping for a little quid pro quo—a treat in return. Or, they write, it's possible that "a simple form of empathy" drove the behavior; perhaps when donor dogs saw their pals happily snacking, it made them happy too. "The positive emotion experienced by partners when they receive a reward may have a positive effect on the donor," they say. 

So yeah, dogs are pretty much the greatest.

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Animals
Slow Motion Is the Only Way to Appreciate a Chameleon’s Lightning-Fast Tongue
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From the unusual way they walk, to their ability to change color, the evolutionary adaptations of chameleons are pretty bizarre, and some of them remain mysterious even to scientists. Their super-powered tongues, for instance, can dart out so quickly that the movement can barely be seen with the naked eye. But modern high-speed cameras have enabled researchers at the University of South Dakota to observe this appendage at work like never before. The video below, shared over at The Kid Should See This, includes some of that groundbreaking footage, and it's pretty amazing to watch.

Shooting at 3000 frames per second, the camera was able to capture every split-second aspect of the chameleon's tongue strike. Slowed down, the video allows you to see how every component of the process works in harmony: First, muscles in the lizard’s tongue contract like the string of a bow. Then, when that tension is released, the bony base of the tongue shoots forward, pushing the sticky, elastic part toward the chameleon’s prey.

According to Christopher Anderson, one of the scientists who conducted the high-speed camera research, larger chameleons can catapult their tongues forward at distances of one to two times their body length. For smaller chameleons, this distance can reach up to two and a half times their body length. “Small chameleons need to be able to eat more food for their body size than large chameleons,” he tells bioGraphic in the video, “and so by being able to project their tongues proportionately further than these large species, they basically are opening up additional feeding opportunities to themselves that they wouldn’t have if they had a shorter tongue.”

To see one of nature’s greatest hunting tools in action, check out the full video below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
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Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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