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Citizen Science: Understanding Breed-Specific Behavior and Dog Genetics

How well can we identify the breeds in a mixed-breed dog by appearance alone? How much is breed-specific behavior influenced by the way different breeds are treated?  Now you can help scientists find out!

The Mutt-Mix Project

Darwin’s Dogs and the International Association of Animal Behavioral Consultants are collaborating to learn more about the ways small changes in the DNA of dogs over time have influenced canine behavior.  Project Mutt-Mix uses a citizen science survey to gather information about how well people can identify dog breeds in a mixed-breed animal.

The survey is the first step towards a larger goal of understanding how people perceive different breeds, and how this perception influences our relationship to dogs.

You don’t have to be a dog parent to participate!  Anyone will be able to test his/her breed recognition skills through a short survey.  Participants will receive a certificate of participation as well as the answers to the survey in about two months  This survey hasn’t launched, but those who are interested can sign up now.

A better understanding of breed-specific behaviors may help to prevent breed discrimination.  This knowledge may also help advance training techniques to better match breed characteristics and owner expectations.

Darwin’s Dogs

Darwin’s Dogs is run by the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and UMass Medical School.  The project studies canine genetics to understand and to develop treatments for psychiatric and neurological disease in both humans and animals.  Like the Mutt-Mix project, Darwin’s Dogs relies on citizen science surveys.

Participating dog owners complete a series of brief surveys.  Once an owner completes ten surveys, they are eligible to submit a saliva sample for their dog.  From each sample analyzed, owners will receive information about their dog’s genetics and breed.  Scientists will compare the genetic information to behavioral data provided by the owner.  Scientists will not analyze every sample submitted.  Instead, the scientists will select samples for analysis based on the needs of the project.  Enroll your dog(s) at Darwin’s Dogs enroll to begin.

Get involved

Together, the Mutt-Mix project and Darwin’s Dogs provide an opportunity for dog lovers to contribute to science.  Sign up today and get started.

What do you think?  Are you already participating in Darwin’s Dogs?  Comment below to share your story.


Don’t Move to the Suburbs to Please Your Pet. City Dogs May Be Happier.

Millennials are buying suburban houses to please their pets. But does the change in lifestyle really benefit their dogs?  Probably not. Here’s why city dogs may be happier.

According to a recent report in Time, millennials are leaving cities to buy homes in the suburbs because of their dogs.  There’s a perceived benefit to larger homes and big yards. But the benefit may be more about convenience for the humans than happiness for the dogs.  We have kept dogs in rural, suburban, and city environments.  Here are four reasons we think our dogs are happier in the city.

1. The walkies

Walks are the number one reason city dogs may be happier.  As apartment dwellers, we spend more time walking our dogs each day than we ever did in the suburbs.  This means not only more exercise for all of us, but more time spent interacting with our dogs.  Walkies are mandatory, and the dogs allow no procrastination.   In addition to quick trips down to the dog park for sanitary purposes and play, we also make several long walks around the city each week.

Although suburban areas may boast more dedicated walking trails, neighborhoods within cities are often better connected by sidewalks and other pedestrian ways.  From our front door, we can walk for miles in almost any direction and never leave the sidewalk.  Public green spaces and dog parks are concentrated into a smaller area and are more accessible by foot in urban areas.  Unlike the suburbs, cities offer diverse sights and experiences for both pets and people.

Dogs walked in crowded urban spaces often require more training and better leash skills than their suburban counterparts.  Dogs enjoy learning and need to be challenged throughout their lives.  Daily walks provide a time for reinforcing leash training and building a stronger human/dog bond.

2. The dog-friendly spaces

There are more dog-friendly public spaces within walking distance in the city.  City dogs enjoy spending more time with their parents on the patio at local coffee shops, bars, and restaurants.  Most dog-friendly eateries offer fresh water for pets, and many provide treats for their canine patrons, too.

3. The socialization

City dogs get more socialization opportunities than suburban dogs.  Dog parks are increasingly offered as an amenity in rental communities.  We are among the growing number of renters with access to a private dog park.  As a result, our dogs interact with other dogs every day.  And because city dwellers generally have smaller homes and must be more conscious about separation-related behavior issues, city dogs are more likely to go to day care when their parents are away.

4. The tribe

Most city dogs end up with their own tribe of ardent fans.  Our dog Wesley is a crowd pleaser wherever he goes, and he thrives on the attention.  It’s safe to say that social dogs like Wesley get a lot of pleasure from interacting with a variety of people.  When handled appropriately, the increased exposure to many different people can help shy dogs become more tolerant and confident.

Does a Yard Really Make a Dog Happier?

The biggest downside for the city dweller is not having access to a yard.  Having a yard is undeniably much more convenient for dog parents.  There’s no need to rush outside with the dog in freezing weather or rain, and walks can be scheduled at the parent’s convenience, instead of through necessity.  However, the benefit of a yard to dogs is not as clear.

Having a yard means that a dog can go outside more frequently during the day.  Going outside more frequently doesn’t necessarily mean that a dog will get more beneficial exercise, especially if his owners forego regular walks.   Remember that dogs left to their own devices spend only about five minutes a day running and 68 minutes a day walking.  The majority of your dog’s day is spent sleeping or resting (about 19.4 hours), whether inside or out.

Giving a dog unsupervised access to a yard may lead to some unpleasant surprises.  The dog may dig or bark at passersby.  Even worse, the dog may get out of the yard and wander off.  Although there isn’t good data available, it seems more likely that a dog let out into the yard is more likely to escape than a city dog that is walked on a leash.

Your dog can be happy whether you choose to live in the city or in the suburbs.  It’s a mistake to think that suburban life on its own, will make your dog happier.  What is important is that you spend quality time with your dog every day.

What do you think?  Are you looking to move out of the city?  Are you living in the city and loving it?  Or are you and your dog sitting pretty in a suburban home?  Comment below to share your story.




Events for You and Your Pet in KC This Weekend

It’s great to be a pet in KC this weekend!  Start your holiday celebrations early with three upcoming events. Ugly sweaters, pet expo, rabbits, and more!

Bar K’s First Annual Ugly Sweater Party

Put on your ugly sweater, put on your dog’s ugly sweater, and head out to Bar-K on Saturday, Dec. 2,  for some holiday fun!  Prizes for best dog sweater and best dog/human couple.  Capacity is limited to 50, so be sure to come early.  Flaunt those sweaters!

Education/Adoption Meeting at Wayside Waifs (rabbits)

Do you love rabbits?  Maybe you have considered a pet rabbit but just aren’t sure you are a good fit.  Come down to Wayside Waifs for an education and adoption meeting.  Missouri House Rabbit Society of Kansas City will be on hand to answer your questions about raising a pet rabbit indoors.  You can bring your rabbit for free nail trims.

Great KC Pet Expo

Experience Kansas City’s biggest celebration of pets, pet families, pet stuff, pet services, and pet entertainment.  Dec. 2 through 3rd at the KCI Expo Center.  Tickets are $8.  HIghlights of the event include a stunt-dog show, tips and demonstrations from trainers, contests for your dog, vendors, and more.  Get started on finding the perfect Christmas gift for your pet!  This is a dog-friendly event, but you’ll want to complete the “critter release agreement” to speed up your entry.


Dressing Up: A Brief History of Pets and Costumes

According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent around $440 million on pet costumes for Halloween this year. Pets in costumes (pumpkins are still the number one choice in 2017) were everywhere during the month of October.  Pets got dressed up and competed for the best costume at fundraisers, private parties, and pet-centered fall festivals.  All this pet masquerading raises an interesting question:  When did dressing pets become so popular?

Collars were the earliest pet costumes

Halloween aside, people have been dressing pets in one way or another since the time of Ancient Egypt.  Tomb findings reveal that some Egyptians outfitted  their dogs with ornate collars bearing the dog’s name.  Dog collars became prominent in Ancient Greece, where hunting or fighting dogs wore spiked collars. In the Middle Ages, royalty and other nobility displayed wealth in the form of decorative collars and leashes.  Often these dog accessories were adorned with gold and jewels. It is said that Louis XV dressed his Cavalier spaniel in a gold collar with diamonds.   During the Renaissance, pet owners had more dispensable income, and leather collars with tags or ornaments became common.  It was also during this time that dog ordinances were instituted. These new laws created a need for special identification or registration tags.  In the 19th century, bells on collars were fashionable.

Clothing and costumes for wealthy pets, 1800-2000

As smaller dog breeds became popular, pet owners began to use warm sweaters to keep their dogs cozy during winter weather.  Fashion houses in Paris began catered to the well-dressed pet during the 1800s.  In 1833, England’s Princess Victoria dressed her spaniel in a scarlet jacket and blue pants.

Dressing pets remained the purview of the well-heeled during the 20th century.  Ordinary pet owners were discouraged from dressing and pampering pets.  In 1915, the naturalist Alpheus Hyatt Verrill warned against “pampering, constant fondling, dressing up in clothing, and other ridiculous practices.”  Even so, vintage photos of animals in clothing from the early 1900s demonstrate that some people continued to clothe their pets.

21st century pets get costumes like their human families

Sometime around the turn of the millenium, something changed.  As pets began to be increasingly viewed as members of the family, they also began to take part in celebrations previously reserved for humans.  It was inevitable, perhaps, that more and more pets would begin to participate in Halloween.

The National Retail Federation of America began tracking US expenditures on Halloween costumes for pets in 2010.  At that time, Americans planned to spend about $210 million on pet costumes.  In 2015, Americans spent about $350 million on pet costumes.  That translates to about $1 for every $3 spent on kids’ costumes that year. The popularity of pet costumes continues to grow.

Learn more: Dog fashion history; History of dog collars

First Fridays in the Crossroads

I ran across an article that listed First Fridays in the Crossroads as a dog-friendly event. I think it is important to set the record straight so that you and your dog are not disappointed. I would rate First Fridays as among the least dog-friendly events in our city. Sidewalks and restaurants, including patios, are packed with people (think barely room to move). Some galleries post “No dogs, please” signs. Let’s be honest. What about an event dedicated to strolling through art galleries screams “Let’s bring Fido!” to you? My recommendation is to leave your dogs at home and enjoy a fantastic evening in the company of your fellow humans.

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