Well here goes, the first blog entry of 2015! Firstly, I would like to take this opportunity to say a huge Happy New Year to you all – and your 4 legged companions – we hope it is a very successful year for everyone!
Now time for a bit of a round up. 2014 was a busy year for the project, with both Stefanie and myself settling into our roles in the team and Sarah going off on maternity leave with baby Reuben. We worked with dogs at the North Lincolnshire branch of Jerry Green Rescue and at Mayflower Sanctuary for Animals near Doncaster, where we were fortunate to meet lots of lovely dogs waiting for their new homes, as well as their very helpful carers. The rescue dogs were always pleased to see us and looked forward to taking part in the different studies – including using to learn how to eat from automated feeding devices and learning a task that required them to follow human eye gaze.
2014 also saw us complete a record number of studies with owned dogs, including investigating food preference, eye gaze and social reward tasks; all in the context of dogs experiencing a change in reward. During the summer, we had two international visiting students, one from Brazil and one from France, who worked alongside two of our own undergraduate students to investigate whether dogs altered their running speed when they experienced a change in reward at the end of a (not very long) runway.
You might remember that towards the end of the year we were looking for dogs to take part in a foraging task – where we were interested in looking at how dogs responded to an unexpected change from a high value food to a lower value food. This required dogs to search ‘activity boards’ to gain food rewards. Previously in other species, for example in rats, it has been shown that when an individual experiences a change in reward they spend increased time searching for the “lost” (and more desirable) reward. We wanted to see whether this was the case for dogs too. We are still busy analysing all of the data, but the initial findings look promising and we will update you as soon as we can. Here you can see a video of Rue showing us how it should be done!
In total, over 100 owned dogs took part in our project last year!! We would like to say a MASSIVE thank you to them all, and for all you patient owners for letting them take part and bringing them along. We really couldn’t have done it without you and it has been a pleasure to meet so many new faces, and catch up with old friends too. We love to hear what they are up to so please do keep us posted of any adventures they get up to!
The New Year signals the start of some new studies for us, and we are already planning exciting new things for you and your dog to get involved in. The promising findings of the foraging task mean that we may be looking to conduct another similar study – this time taking additional (non-invasive) physiological measures including heart rate and urine samples. If you think your dog might be interested in taking part, or if you would like to register an interest in case of anything coming up in the future, please contact me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
In the meantime, I will leave you with some of our favourite photos you have sent in over the past few months – and we look forward to receiving lots more!