Best Way to Train May Be Doggie See-Doggie Do
University of Manchester
A pointer named “Major” is identified as the first known example of a modern dog. A description of the dog was found in a now-obscure 1865 edition of a Victorian journal called The Field. It marks the earliest reported dog breed based on physical form and pedigree. “The invention of ‘breed,’ physically and imaginatively, still shapes how we see and think about dogs today,” Michael Worboys, Director of the University of Manchester’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, told Discovery News. Worboys and his team found the information concerning “Major” while preparing a new museum exhibit on dogs.
The first domestication of dogs was thought to have taken place 31,680 years ago -- but new research suggests the skull in question likely belong to a wolf. This particular specimen was found with a still-visible mammoth bone in its mouth.
The paleolithic dog remains resembled a modern Siberian husky, but suggest an animals that was significantly larger. Today, the Siberian husky, Samoyed and Alaskan malamute breeds are all closely related. "The most remarkable difference between these dogs and recent dog breeds is the size of the teeth,” paleontologist Mietje Germonpré said. Other early dog breeds, with a focus on the U.K., are featured in the museum exhibit curated by Worboys and his team. Entitled “Breed: The British and Their Dogs,” the exhibit runs at the University of Manchester museum through April 14.
Another team of researchers, led by Heidi Parker of the National Human Genome Research Institute, used DNA analysis to determine the genetic relationships of numerous dog breeds. One such ancient breed is the Afghan hound. As its name suggests, it's native to the Middle East. It’s one of the oldest dog breeds in existence, and was originally used for hunting hares and gazelles.
Parker and her team found that Akitas are yet another ancient breed. These dogs originated in Asia and are genetically similar to chow chows. The breed was not included in the first dog show. “The first dog show was in 1859 when only two varieties were shown: pointers and setters,” Worboys said. It had nothing to do with the handsome Akita’s looks, as he explained that the first dog show was “for gun dogs only.”
The sleek-bodied saluki comes from Iran, where its distant ancestors might have once lived near the earliest farmers from the Fertile Crescent. Dogs in this region evolved the ability to eat a starch-rich diet around 12,000 years ago. “Our findings show that it was crucial to early dogs to be able to thrive on a diet rich in starch,” Uppsala University’s Erik Axelsson, who led a related study, told Discovery News. “That indicates that dog domestication may be linked to the development of agriculture. It is possible that dogs may have been domesticated independently at locations where agriculture developed early, such as the Fertile Crescent and China.”
One of the most ancient dog breeds native to the United States is the Alaskan malamute. The DNA study found that they are genetically similar to Siberian huskies. This large, muscular dog was used -- and still is -- for pulling sleds, hauling freight by other means, and for additional work tasks.
The basenji is “an ancient African breed,” according to Parker and her colleagues. While “Major” the pointer is the first documented modern breed of dog, the basenji is arguably the first dog to be heavily bred by humans. Although this dog hails from central Africa, paleontologists believe its wolf ancestors originally came from eastern Asia.
Remigiusz Józefowicz/Wikimedia Commons
In China, the chow chow is affectionately referred to as Songshi Quan, meaning “puffy-lion dog.” It is genetically close to the Akita, also from Asia. It represents yet another early breed.
Of the four most ancient known Asian dog breeds, the shar-pei was the first to diverge from a wolf ancestor, suggesting it is the oldest known Asian breed. This dog is famous for its deep wrinkles and blue-black tongue. Mutations of the same gene that causes wrinkles in these dogs can also cause wrinkling of human skin.
The days of training a dog with treats and pats could be numbered, according to a new study which shows that dogs are sometimes quicker at learning by imitation than by the old fashioned reward and punishment, or clicker learning approach.
The study is the latest to show that the most popular approach to training dogs underestimates the canine ability to imitate behaviors that they see their masters perform. It's also the first to put what's called the "do-as-I-do" approach for training dogs right alongside the old operant conditioning approach, in which dogs behaviors are directly reinforced with the aid of a clicker.
If the new research is confirmed, it could mean more legitimacy for the do-as-I-do training method.
"We compared the efficiency of the do-as-I-do method, which relies on social learning, with that of a training method that relies on individual learning (shaper/clicker method) to teach dogs three different kinds of object-related actions," explains Claudia Fugazza and Adam Miklosi of Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary.
In order to keep the two kinds of training comparable, the researchers enlisted dog/owner pairs who had previously earned a certificate for either type of training.
They were tested on training new actions ranging from simple to complex and sequences of two actions, in three separate sessions, using the training method for which they were certified. In each case the owners had 15 minutes to train their dogs to perform the new actions.
"Enrolling unexperienced dogs would have meant first exposing them to preliminary training, before both the methods would show their best results," said Fugazza. "Testing (pairs) that achieved a training certificate for either method, we were able to have two groups that were comparable regarding their skills and experience in training. Of course this cannot completely rule out individual differences in owners' skills, but this was the best way to eventually minimize them."
The traditional shaper/clicker approach first trains dogs to associate a loud clicker sound with a treat, in true Pavlovian style. Then the clicker can be used as a positive reinforcement for the right behaviors as a dog is trained to perform parts of what together become more complex tasks.
The do-as-I-do method, on the other hand, involves initially conditioning dogs to pay attention to the owner who performs whatever action they want the dog to learn. The dog is trained to then try and imitate an action when told "Do it!" The owner's performance and then the dogs attempt to imitate it are repeated until the dog gets it right.
"While we did not find a significant difference between the two training methods with regard to simple actions, we found that subjects using the do-as-I-do method outperformed those using shaping/clicker training in the case of complex actions and sequences of two actions," the researchers reported in the latest issue of the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science.
Just how useful the distinction is between training methods remains to be seen, however.
"In reality you're pulling from different learning methods," said veterinarian Liz Stelow of the University of California, Davis. "Very rarely are you seeing 'I'm going to teach in one particular way.' We all intuitively go with what will work with a particular dog."
That said, Stelow says there is always a push to find a better, quicker way to train dogs -- especially assistance dogs. And since dog breeds, as well as individual dogs, vary in how they learn, she would like to see a larger study comparing the training methods which involved more dogs and more breeds.
"We believe that studies like this should benefit the practitioners working with dogs," said Fugazza. "This is a very first step in this direction, at least regarding the do-as-I-do method, and unfortunately such studies on training methods are lacking in general."