Thursday, December 10, 2009

Throwing Whiskey from the Negro Coach: Racism in a 1926 Tracking Case?

Perhaps half of police dog cases in the last twenty years involve canine sniffs, often of vehicles pulled over for traffic violations. The officer becomes suspicious and calls in a canine unit to see if the dog will alert to drugs (occasionally explosives). Before World War II, however, police dog cases most often involved tracking. Some cases are worth reading for the pictures of America that they give. Consider the following description of a crime from a 1926 case in Mississippi.

"Two police officers, Parnell and Danner, and several constables had repaired to a point about two miles southwardly from the city of Meridian, where they had information that whisky had been thrown from a train before, and would be on that night thrown from train No. 2, going northwardly, toward Meridian. So arranging themselves in two groups, the two police officers, Parnell and Danner, being together, they stationed themselves on the right of way 40 or 50 feet from the railroad track, to await the coming of the train about 11 o'clock on the night of the 20th of June, 1924; that when the train passed, they saw a negro named Hezekiah Clay throw three kegs of whisky off of the front vestibule of the negro coach, and immediately after the train had passed, which was running about 20 or 25 miles an hour, the defendant appeared upon the scene, passing on to where one keg of whisky was, which was farther away from them; that the defendant took up the keg of whisky and carried it away on his shoulder, and was gone seven or eight minutes; that the two officers then moved down in close proximity to the second keg, and when the defendant came back he came toward where the second keg had landed, and stopped. The officers, thinking he had discovered them, arose, flashed their flashlights upon him, and ordered him to throw up his hands and consider himself under arrest. To this order of the officers the negro responded by firing several shots at the officers. Officer Danner claimed that he was shooting at him (Danner). The officers responded to the negro's shots with a volley, each of them discharging his gun. No one was wounded. The negro ran off toward the mountains."

Bloodhounds were placed on the trail.

"The bloodhounds trailed toward the mountains in the direction which the officers said their assailant had gone, and finally, at 4 o'clock in the morning, they trailed to the home of defendant's mother, about a block and a half from Thelma Walker's house, where the defendant says he was living with Thelma Walker in concubinage."

The defendant, Boatwright, provided witnesses that gave him an alibi, and sought a continuance to produce more, which was not granted. The kegs of whisky were introduced in evidence, but do not seem to have connected the defendant with the crime, though viewing them may have incensed the jury. The only evidence connecting Boatwright to the crime appears to have been that the dogs tracked to a house where he was living. Was there racism here? Probably. It was well settled by this time in cases that considered tracking evidence that bloodhound testimony alone was not sufficient to convict. It could only be corroborative. It may be that the appellate opinion failed to review some uncontested evidence, but anything particularly probative would likely have been mentioned since it would have provided additional support for the decision to affirm. Boatwright v. State, 143 Miss. 676, 109 So. 710 (Sup. Ct. 1926).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Scott and Fuller's 1965 Treatise Still a Gold Mine

In reading modern authors on dog evolution and behavior, such as Coppinger and Miklosi, one finds many references to a book published long before modern genome technologies, Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog, by John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller (U. Chicago Press, frequently reprinted). I had avoided reading the book because I feared that its relative antiquity would mean that I would constantly be reminded how far science has come in understanding the genetics of dogs. To the contrary, once I picked the book up, I found it hard to put down. The authors may not have had all the modern tools of molecular biology, but their discoveries are phenomenal and every page is full of valuable observations, some of which have never been stated better. It’s such a brilliant work that I have no doubt I will be reading it again soon. Just two passages will be quoted here. The first concerns the evolution of dogs:

Adaptive radiation on a smaller scale [i.e., smaller than what happened with mammals once reptiles (dinosaurs) had been eliminated as major rivals] seems to have taken place soon after the dog became domesticated. Within the various human societies, dogs found a whole new habitat. The dog, as one of the first domestic animals, was a remarkable social invention, both for protection and as an aid to hunting, and every tribe must have wanted to get hold of one. In this way dogs spread rapidly over the world, differentiating as they moved, and so produced the southern short-haired varieties like the dingo and, at the opposite extreme of their range, the northern Eskimo dogs which are almost like wolves. A further multiplication of habitats was provided when the herd animals were domesticated. Now dogs were needed to protect those herds against their own close relatives, the wolves, which found the domestic beasts easy prey.

Then there’s the following on the overbreeding of champions, an issue I’ve discussed here before:

The desirability of multiple standards makes the practice of breeding a champion to a large number of females within a breed a questionable one. Almost every animal carries some sort of injurious recessive genes, and this practice insures that they will be spread throughout the whole breed, with resulting disappointment as the descendants of these champions are eventually bred together and the recessive traits begin to show up in large numbers. The breed objectives should not be the development of a single, fixed type—something which is only possible by strict inbreeding—but rather for the development of a population varying within desirable limits and within which new and more valuable combinations of genes will always be possible.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Court Would Not Pick Up Bill of Drug Dog Expert for Defendant

When charged with a narcotics offense, the chain of evidence often includes an alert of a drug dog. A significant proportion of traffic stops that balloon into drug busts involve a canine sniff of the vehicle. The sniff justifies a further search, uncovering drugs, paraphernalia, and/or large amounts of cash. The defendant may attack the alert of the drug dog, though this will seldom work unless there has been a very long delay before the dog was produced, or perhaps if the only thing uncovered in the subsequent search is a large amount of cash. In moving to suppress the drug dog evidence or the fruits of that evidence, the accused may request funds from the court to retain his own expert when he cannot afford one. Such a request was made by Willard Wayne Howard in a case arising in Tennessee.

The facts of U.S. v. Howard are as follows. On December 12, 2005, officers of the Bradley County, Tennessee, Sheriff’s Department pulled over Antonio Benitez, who was driving a Volkswagen Passat. Five kilograms of cocaine were discovered in a secret compartment in the car, but this search was not at issue in the case. Benitez was taken to the sheriff’s office where one of the cell phones that had been found in the car rang and was answered by a deputy. The deputy told the caller that he worked for a towing company and that the Passat had been wrecked. He gave the caller the cell phone number of another deputy, but said that the number was that of the towing company. Amy Cornwell, Benitez’s girlfriend, called that number and said that she and her stepfather would drive to Tennessee to pick up the Passat. Two days later she arrived with Willard Howard in a Chevrolet Suburban. She went to the wrecking company where a deputy named Renner was impersonating an employee. Renner said that he had found a secret compartment in the Passat but that he would not tell the police if she gave him $500. She said she did not know what he was talking about. Renner arrested her anyway, Other officers arrested Howard and led a drug detection dog named Titan around the Suburban. Titan alerted at the rear door of the car. A search revealed nearly $100,000 in cash.

A magistrate determined that the arrest of defendant was illegal, and denied Howard’s motion for an appointment of an expert. The federal district court for the Eastern District of Tennessee held that the evidence from the search of the Suburban could still be admissible if Titan’s alert was an independent source for the search of the vehicle, i.e., was not dependent on the illegal arrest. Based on this conclusion, Howard moved for reconsideration of the denial of the motion for appointment of an expert. The expert Howard wanted was Robert Gonzalez, who had for five years been the Branch Manager of the 37th Security Forces on Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. In this capacity, Gonzalez managed all military working dogs on the base. He was also selected by the Air Force Headquarters Security Police to be the Team Leader, trainer, and coordinator of the U.S. Customs Canine Drug Interdiction Force for Puerto Rico. Gonzalez was clearly qualified, but the issue was whether the court should pay for him since Howard apparently could not. (It is not explained whose cash the $100,000 was or why Howard was in need of funds.)

Howard argued that an expert was needed to determine if the National Narcotic Detector Dog Association (NNDDA) had an acceptable certification process, to determine the dog’s performance and training records, and to determine if Titan had reliable alerts. Titan was certified by the NNDDA. The court then considered what use Gonzalez could be to Howard in this regard and said that there was no evidence that Gonzalez had experience with this particular organization, though he had considerable experience with detection dogs. Implicitly the district court signaled that it saw no point in a dispute between a large national organization and an expert with a different background. Nor could Gonzalez describe the alerts of Titan, a dog with which he had never worked.

The magistrate subsequently determined that the independent source doctrine applied to admit the search of the Suburban. U.S. v. Howard, 448 F.Supp. 889 (ED TN 2006); magistrate’s report and recommendation (2007). The NNDDA website provides certification standards for police dogs, narcotics detection dogs, explosive detection dogs, and cadaver dogs. As of 2006, the NNDDA had between 2,500 and 3,000 handler members.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cadaver Dogs Help Solve Cold Case

Michelle Dorr was six years old on May 31, 1986 when she disappeared from her father’s house in Silver Spring, Maryland. Carl Dorr, Michelle’s father, reported her missing at 4 o’clock that afternoon. He told the police that he was not exactly sure when he had last seen his daughter, but thought it was shortly after lunch, about 1 o’clock. He seems to have left her unsupervised in the backyard for several hours before noticing that she was no longer there. Carl Dorr was immediately the prime suspect. The police interviewed him aggressively, which did not allay their suspicions. They kept him under surveillance, tapped his phone, reviewed bank and video rental records, questioned his employers, co-workers, friends, neighbors, and family. Dorr had a series of nervous breakdowns. He announced that he was Jesus Christ and said he could bring Michelle back to life. He was hospitalized, but suffered another breakdown on release. He made incriminating statements, saying once that he had suffocated Michelle and put her body in a sewer. He also said he had buried her near his father’s grave. Michelle’s mother appeared on America’s Most Wanted and said her ex-husband had killed their daughter. Carl saw the television program and went to his ex-wife’s house. He demanded to be let in and said he knew where Michelle was and that the truth would burn a hole in his wife’s soul.

Lost in the police files accumulated after Michelle’s disappearance were some other pieces of evidence that did not point to Carl Dorr. Neighbors of Carl Dorr named the Binders had seem something that did not seem so significant at the time. Their neighbor on the other side, Geoffrey Clark, had been allowing a ne’er do well brother named Hadden to stay with him. Hadden was moving out of his brother’s house the day of Michelle’s disappearance, and the Binders, when asked if they had seen anything unusual, said they had seen Hadden loading a duffle bag and a trunk into his white pickup. But this was no later than 12:20, a time fixed by the Binders, because they had left then or before to attend a baptism. Loading a duffle bag was not, however, very suspicious. First, Hadden was moving. Second, this had occurred at least forty minutes before Carl Dorr said he had last seen his daughter.

Hadden was intereviewed twice by the police. The first time was nine days from Michelle’s disappearance and was not informative. The second was three days later. In the second interview, Hadden asked to be excused and went into a bathroom where he cried and vomited. When he returned an officer asked him what he had done to Michelle. “I don’t know,” he replied. “I may have blacked out. I may have done something.” Hadden asked to speak to his psychiatrist. He was permitted to leave the police station. Carl Dorr remained the prime suspect.

In October 1992, over six years later, a 23-year-old woman named Laura Houghteling disappeared. Hadden had worked as a handyman at her family’s residence and Hadden became a suspect in this crime, which revived the memory that he had been interviewed in Michelle Dorr’s disappearance. On October 31, 1992, Hadden arrived at his sister’s home in Rhode Island, where he complained to her that the police were trying to pin a crime on him because he was homeless. That night he went to his family’s plot and camped there for the night. When he returned to Maryland, Hadden Clark was interviewed concerning the disappearance of both Laura and Michelle. Officers went to the cemetery where Hadden had spent the night and found the soil near the family plot had been disturbed. Similar soil was found in Hadden’s truck.

A cadaver dog named Dan came with his handler, Massachusetts State Trooper Kathleen Barrett, to the cemetery. Dan alerted to an area near the headstone. A second cadaver dog named Panzer also alerted to the same spot. Hadden Clark pled guilty to second degree murder in Laura’s death and was sentenced to thirty years in prison. While in prison, Hadden gave two cellmates a description of how he had killed Michelle six years before Laura. He said he had found her playing in his niece’s room (the niece and her parents were not home at the time) and cut her up with a butcher knife. He told his cellmates that he had put her in a trash bag and then in a duffle bag which he had loaded in the back of his truck. This was the event noticed by neighbors, but initially ignored because it was inconsistent with the time frame of Michelle’s disappearance as given by her father.

Because of the description of Michelle’s death that Hadden gave to his cellmates, the room where he had described killing her was sprayed with luminol, which causes blood to become luminescent. There was a lot of blood, consistent with Hadden’s story. Curiously, DNA testing eliminated Michelle as the source of the blood.

The police theorized that Hadden had removed the body of Michelle the night he spent at the cemetery after he became a suspect in Laura’s death. Although this was not established on the record, Hadden was finally convicted of second degree murder in Michelle’s death. Michelle’s body was later found, alerted to by Panzer. Clark v. State, 140 Md.App. 540, 781 A.2d 913 (Md.Ct.Spec.App. 2001). See Alec Wilkinson, “A Hole in the Ground,” The New Yorker, p. 64 (September 4, 2000).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Are Breeding Programs Reducing Genetic Variability?

There are various conflicts in the dog world. Choke vs. no-choke in dog training. Treats vs. other rewards. One that I’ve encountered more in the last few years are disputes between those who want to keep breeds pure vs. those who believe in crossing in other breeds. Some remarks near the end of Adam Miklosi’s wonderful book, Dog Behavior, Evolution, and Cognition (Oxford University Press 2007) are worth considering:

"Today dogs are subject to a dangerous ‘game’ which involves irresponsible playing with one tiny aspect of their phenotype: the form. This leads to two important problems. Breeders are encouraged to inbreed in order to fulfil the requirements which lead to genetically homozygous populations, and the absence of selection for behaviour leads to the disappearance of breed-specific traits. Thus this trend brings nothing good for dogs in terms of their evolution because genotypes are being lost and genetic variability is decreasing."

Miklosi then cites P.D. McGreevy and F.W. Nicholas, whose article, “Some Practical Solutions to Welfare Problems in Dog Breeding,” 8 Animal Welfare 329-341 (1999), argued that breeds should not be considered closed populations, and dogs from other breeds should be crossed in. This would not change the appearance of the breeds, as breeding programs can create virtual breeds, as was done with the Pharaoh Hound (described by Miklosi, in another section of his book, as “probably a fake ‘look-alike’ recently created from different types of dogs”).

My father, M.E. Ensminger, would have agreed with the notion of breeding in animals from other breeds. In his treatises on Animal Science, Beef Cattle Science, and other books, he placed a high value on “hybrid vigor,” recommending that breeding programs regularly cross in other breeds to improve production. He had the advantage of working with the livestock production field where appearance is important, but other qualities, such as the amount of muscle that becomes hamburger, were even more important. Consequently, I'm not aware that he encountered much resistance to his arguments. (His books are still in print, being revised under a trust arrangement by staff at Iowa State University.)

Those concerned with dogs losing behavioral characteristics as a result of crossing in other breeds should consider the research of Kenth Svartberg, a Swedish scientist, who studied breed differences using tests of over 13,000 dogs in 31 breeds. Svartberg concluded that selection was often being dominated by show dog breeders, and that their programs were producing good show dogs, but that the behaviors correlated with the breed origins, often inconsistent with what is required for a show dog, were disappearing. Kenth Svartberg, “Breed-Typical Behaviour in Dogs—Historical Remnants of Recent Constructs?” 96 Applied Animal Behaviour Science 293-313 (2006).

My aunt, Lee Watts, was a well-known poodle breeder in Canada. She used to say that if you didn't get a purebred dog, "you don't know what you're getting." I still hear it when I go to obedience classes. What she didn't know, and what Svartberg's research indicates, that you may be getting the right form, but as time goes on you're not getting the same complex of behaviors. Domestication does not stay still for other factors, even if the form stays still.

Additional Note.  The effect of letting show appearance dominate the breeding programs of a particular dog was decried long ago. Captian von Stephanitz, discussing the Scotch shepherd dog or collie in The German Shepherd Dog in Word and Picture (1923), noted that it is divided into "two varieties, a short smooth haired, and a long smooth haired kind, from which originated the long haired dogs so prized by the fancy breeders…. In the Shetland Islands, where the dwarf horse is bred, there is a dwarf variety of this collie.”  He then says a picture of a long haired dog that was “a prize winner of some reputation, shows how far one-sided and exaggerated breeding may go till it becomes unnatural and a caricature.  The collie of the fancy dog breeder is now only bred for beauty and is kept for luxury and show; with his slender small head and overbred face drawn out into an overlong nose—(this part from the tip of the nose to the division in the forehead is much longer than the cranium, while the proportion should be the reverse). Then there is the carriage of the ears, where only the upper third of them should tip over; but must only droop over that much, otherwise it is considered a great fault—(to the fancy breeder the erect eared Scotch dogs such as are also seen today are villainous rogues, worthy of death), and in conclusion the hair is everything…. The daily ‘toilet’—here the word must be understood in the English sense—of a collie beauty takes hours to perform; especially before an Exhibition.”

After discussing the show preparations that he finds offensive, Stephanitz then delves into the uselessness of the dog for real work:

“He lives more on the good reputation built up by the yeoman services of his ancestors, which he no longer knows how to perform. That is the meaning of the vacuous appearance of the shallow, unintelligent, ant-eater-like too elongated head…. The present day fancy Scotch dog with his slender needle like sharp teeth can tear very savagely and make serious wounds, but these qualities do not fit him for service with flocks and hers; and further, he lacks the strength necessary to stop and turn a stubborn sheep.”

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Psychiatric Service Dog Society Gets Transportation Department to Rethink Air Carrier Access Rules

The Department of Transportation has taken the somewhat unusual step of publicizing some criticisms that have been raised concerning its 2008 revision of the air carrier access rules (73 Fed. Reg. 27614, May 13, 2008). The criticisms come from the Psychiatric Service Dog Society (PSDS), which criticized 14 CFR 382.117(e), which reads as follows:

(e) If a passenger seeks to travel with an animal that is used as an emotional support or psychiatric service animal, you are not required to accept the animal for transportation in the cabin unless the passenger provides you current documentation (i.e., no older than one year from the date of the passenger’s scheduled initial flight) on the letterhead of a licensed mental health professional (e.g., psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker) stating the following:
(1) The passenger has a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—Fourth Edition (DSM IV);
(2) The passenger needs the emotional support or psychiatric service animal as an accommodation for air travel and/or for activity at the passenger’s destination;
(3) The individual providing the assessment is a licensed mental health professional, and the passenger is under his or her professional care; and
(4) The date and type of the mental health professional’s license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued.

The Department of Transportation notes that PSDS criticizes that failure of the regulations to distinguish psychiatric service dogs from emotional support animals. This is a valid objection in my opinion, but in the interest of full disclosure it is appropriate that I acknowledge that I have co-authored with Dr. Joan Esnayra, founder of PSDS, a letter to Treasury and the IRS regarding the deductibility of service dog expenses (published in Tax Notes, August 24, 2009; contact me at for a copy). PSDS argues that by classifying PSAs with ESAs, DOT is effectively distinguishing PSAs from other service animals and imposing additional requirements on handlers of PSAs that it does not impose on handlers of service animals for the physically disabled. PSDS notes that this will encourage users of PSAs to claim physical disabilities in order to avoid the additional requirements of the regulations.

Many people with mental health-related disabilities use general practitioners and do not receive treatment from licensed mental health professionals on a regular basis. The rule lists only psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers as examples of licensed mental health professionals. Obtaining a letter from a mental health professional would be particularly burdensome for individuals who do not have medical insurance or access to affordable medical care. Providing an airline 48 hours advance notice (14 CFR 382.27(c)(8)) of a passenger’s intention to fly with a PSA is also difficult or impossible in certain short-term situations such as family or medical emergencies, and would exacerbate the mental health professional documentation issue. .

DOT paraphrases one PSDS position as follows:

The rule violates the medical privacy of PSA users by requiring confidential medical information to be provided to airline personnel. Moreover, the rule makes no provision for the confidential treatment of this information once it gets into the airline’s hands, and fails to answer questions concerning the security, storage, or use of the information. PSDS expresses the concern that the Transportation Security Administration could gain access to the information and require additional security measures (e.g., secondary screening) for persons identified as having mental health-related disabilities.

DOT responds that it does “recommend that the carrier take steps to safeguard this information, such as maintaining it in a separate confidential file for the same time it retains the passenger’s reservation record for the flights involved.” DOT specifically asks for comments about this issue, and seems amenable to a more restrictive policy. This should not be a difficult modification, since DOT could require airlines to provide such safeguards as would assure that records are not available for other purposes than to verify a passenger’s status, and not available to staff beyond those needing to access such information.

The release indicates that DOT “has not decided whether to grant the petition by initiating rulemaking action or deny the petition and retain the provisions without change.” Nevertheless, the release concludes with a number of options that the agency might consider, including targeted modification of certain provisions. The issues raised by PSDS are significant. It is to be hoped that DOT will consider some modifications to the final rules. Comments may be submitted online, by mail, fax, or courier. Instructions are contained in the Federal Register, 74 Fed. Reg. 47903, left column. Online is easiest: just go to and follow instructions using DOT Docket ID # OST-2009-0093. Comments must be received by December 17, 2009.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Dog Determines Where Each Suspect Sat in Van on Night of Drive-By Murder

A 2002 California case shows how important dogs have become in the fight against violent gangs in Los Angeles. Jose Sandoval and other members of the Vineland Boys street gang drove into the territory of a rival gang and killed a member of that gang in a drive-by shooting. An officer close to the incident got into his personal car and began to call for help. He also was shot by someone in the van holding the Vineland Boys but managed to radio for help and follow the van, which soon turned into a high speed chase. Going at times almost 90 miles per hour, the van after a few minutes crashed into some parked cars and the occupants fled. A K9 unit was called and LAPD Officer Goosby arrived with Thunder. Residents of the apartment building in the area informed the officers that some men were hiding in the laundry room in the basement. Goosby took Thunder to the laundry room. The door was partially closed. Goosby issued a warning and one suspect came out, but said there was no one else in the room. Goosby let Thunder loose and Thunder alerted as soon as he went past the door. Goosby called Thunder out, then issued another warning. A second suspect came out and surrendered. Officer Goosby then took Thunder to a nearby area where another suspect was found hiding under bags of peat moss.

Thunder was the first dog on the case. Tinkerbelle was the second.

Gloves, clothing, and weapons that had been discarded by the suspects after they left the car were brought to the police station. An LAPD volunteer named Dennis Slavin had been summoned with his bloodhound Tinkerbelle. Slavin told the officers that Tinkerbelle could determine where each suspect sat in the van. This is the court’s description of how this was done:
"Slavin used a “scent transfer unit” to take a scent sample from each of the five seats in the van (two in the front, two in the middle, and a rear bench seat). The scent transfer unit looks like a Dustbuster, modified with a small frame at the end to secure a piece of gauze over its intake opening. Slavin attached a piece of sterile gauze to the unit, activated the unit, and held it against one seat of the van, pulling air from the seat through the gauze pad. Having scented the gauze with the scent on the seat, Slavin secured the pad in a plastic bag, cleaned the unit, and began again with a new pad on the next seat. Slavin then presented each of the gauze pads individually to Tinkerbelle, outside the door to the police station where defendant and his companions were held. Tinkerbelle picked up each trail at the police station entrance, and followed it to a cell. Tinkerbelle trailed the front passenger seat to Corral's cell, the seat behind the driver to Moreno's cell, and both the seat behind the front passenger and the rear bench seat to defendant's cell. Tinkerbelle trailed the driver seat to Quintanilla's cell."

There was other evidence against the defendants, and all the exceptions to the introduction of the evidence, both canine and otherwise, were overruled in the appeal. The convictions stood. People v. Sandoval, 2002 WL 519848 (Cal. App.2d Dist. 2002).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Is There Any Beer in the Cellar? Dog Tracking in Iowa in 1904

Some investigations are handled so poorly that it might be laughable were it not that people’s lives are damaged. A suit in Iowa for wrongful arrest is a case in point. Some chickens having been taken from a man named Brown, a small crowd collected, including the mayor of Des Moines, the chief of police, and a city alderman. Some dogs were found which took a scent from the chicken coop and followed the trail to the house of McClurg, who along with his family was awakened by the sound of the mob. When McClurg opened the door, the police chief stuck his foot in the door while the mayor announced that they had come on official business. The McClurgs said the search was not agreed to, but others said that McClurg had agreed. He may not have been given much of a chance to stop the search in any case. The crowd entered the house. One member of the crowd, finding the event rather fun, asked if there was any beer in the cellar. McClurg said there was no cellar. McClurg was arrested and charged with burglary. The mayor, who did not own or handle the dogs, was permitted to testify that he had heard good things about them and that he had received a letter from an old school chum about these particular dogs. An insurance salesman was permitted to testify that his company, which insured banks, held a very high opinion of tracking dogs. He testified that he had heard of dogs tracking a criminal for 30 miles. All of this testimony was objected to by McClurg’s counsel, but was admitted anyway. Thankfully, the Supreme Court of Iowa reversed. Des Moines was apparently a bit wild in 1904. McClurg v. Benton, 123 Iowa 368 (1904).

Sunday, August 30, 2009

1898 Bloodhound Decision Still Raises Relevant Issues

In the decade before 1900, tracking dogs began to be used to find suspects. The courts of the time struggled with the issues of how and when to admit this kind of testimony, which involved a silent witness not available for cross-examination. A case decided by the Kentucky Court of Appeals in 1898 reversed a conviction of two men accused of burning a barn who had, according to the evidence, fled to a tenement building “occupied by a large number of families and individuals, many of whom were of bad repute.” A dog had tracked to this location, and the testimony of other witnesses led to their conviction.

The dog was a major link in the evidence and the Kentucky appellate court held that the reliability of the dog was not sufficiently established. The case was remanded for a new trial. The court noted that bloodhounds had been used in the not too distant past for tracking runaway slaves and were still used to track convicts. A partial concurrence/partial dissent is, in my opinion, even more interesting than the majority opinion in providing an overview of what was changing about the law of dog tracking at the end of the 19th century. I quote the central part of Judge Guffy’s argument:

"I concur in the reversal of the judgment in this case, but dissent from so much of the majority opinion as holds that the trailing or proven trailing of the defendant by a bloodhound can be introduced as evidence upon the trial of such person charged with any crime. It is true that the majority opinion so restricts such proof, and requires so many conditions precedent, that, if the opinion in question should be strictly adhered to, no great injustice would very often result from evidence admitted under the ruling in question. It, however, seems to me, with due respect to the majority opinion, that such a rule of evidence is contrary to all other rules of evidence, and, if not in violation of the letter of the constitution, is manifestly in violation of the spirit, as heretofore expounded by this court. Such a rule seems to me an innovation upon all the heretofore established rules of testimony. The use of bloodhounds was, perhaps, necessary to efficiently and effectually uphold the institution of slavery, as well as to aid in the arrest and capture of persons accused of crime in the Dark Ages. In such cases, however, the object sought was the arrest or capture of known fugitives. If the dog in fact took up and followed the trail of a fugitive, and found him, or aided his pursuers to find him, the object was accomplished, and there could be no mistake as to whether he was the party sought or not; his guilt and right of capture having been theretofore established, and in fact being unquestioned. If the hound took the wrong trail, and brought to bay the wrong party, that fact would be ascertained so soon as the pursuers reached the party, and the utility of the hound in that regard then ceased. It is now proposed to use the hound, not to capture a fugitive, but to ascertain or furnish evidence to convict some citizen of crime. It seems to me that this new use of the bloodhound is a radical departure from the former purposes for which they were used; but, whether this be so or not, it seems to me that neither the life nor liberty of a citizen should be taken away or even jeopardized by the mere fact that some person testified that the hound was well trained to track human beings, etc., and that he had trailed the accused from the scene of the crime to the habitation of the accused, or until he came upon the accused party. There is danger that the effect of the majority opinion will likely be to greatly promote the raising and training of bloodhounds, or hounds that will be called bloodhounds. It is a well-known fact that the owners of hounds, as well as other property, usually hold such property in high esteem; and, as the owner or trainer of hounds will be engaged in the business for pay, it will be greatly to their interest to always have well-trained hounds. In fact, I presume there will be none but trained and expert hounds in a few years; at least such will be the opinion of their owners, for it would be utterly useless to have any other sort. It is common tradition, and doubtless believed by quite a large number of persons, that bloodhounds are capable of wonderful feats of trailing. In fact, the many wonderful stories told of the achievements of bloodhounds (mostly in the imagination of those originating them) have instilled into the minds of quite a number of persons such wonderful notions of the unerring, if not infallible, knowledge and intelligence of the hounds, that the fact that the hound said that a certain person had lately been at the place where the crime was committed would be the most conclusive proof that could be produced."

This kind of skepticism of tracking evidence has remained in the law, perhaps at a higher level than the science now justifies. Pedigo v. Commonwealth, 103 Ky. 41 (1898).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tracking Dog Case from 1893

On the night of the killing of Rose Stanback in Alabama in 1893, a man’s tracks were found near her house. Neighbors arrived, one with a tracking dog, which scented to the tracks and followed the scent to the house of one Amos Hodge. Defendant’s counsel objected to the testimony of the man with the dog. The entire decision of the Supreme Court of Alabama consists of the following paragraph:

It is common knowledge that dogs may be trained to follow the tracks of a human being with considerable certainty and accuracy. The evidence in this case showed that a dog thus trained was, within a very short time after the homicide, put upon the tracks of the person towards whom all the circumstances strongly pointed as the guilty agent, and that the dog, as if following these tracks, or “trailing,” went to the house of the defendant. It was also in evidence by several witnesses that the tracks found at the scene of the homicide were followed by them thence to the house of the defendant, being measured at various points along the route, and otherwise at each of such points identified as being made by the same shoes as were the tracks at the place of the murder, and that the route thus traced by them was precisely that taken by the dog throughout. On this state of case we are of the opinion that the fact that the dog, trained to track men as shown in the testimony, was put on the tracks at the scene of the homicide, and, “taking the trail,” so to speak, went thence to defendant's house, where he, the defendant, is shown to have been that night after the killing, was competent to go to the jury for consideration by them in connection with all the other evidence as a circumstance tending to connect the defendant with the crime; and, of consequence, that the court committed no error in refusing to exclude it. The ruling of the court on this point is the subject-matter of the only exception reserved. This being without merit, the judgment must be affirmed, and, as affirmed, the sheriff of Escambia county will execute the sentence of death imposed thereunder, as prescribed by law on Friday, July 7, 1893. Affirmed.

A summary of the case in Law Notes from 1904 adds additional facts. Rose was killed by a shotgun blast and a shotgun with one barrel fired was found at the defendant’s house. The wadding and the shot matched wadding and shot found at the murder scene. The dog had tracked over a railroad track and across a street. Witnesses testified that Hodge had threatened to kill Stanback.

Life was simpler in 1893. Hodge v. Alabama, 98 Ala. 10, 13 So. 385 (1893)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Owning Both a Dog and a Cat: Start Them Young

We have been expecting them to get along for perhaps thousands of years. An Italian woodcut from 1549 shows two dogs and a cat waiting for scraps to fall, or be thrown, from a table (Banchetti Compositioni di Vivende, 1549).  The second picture is the left section of Pietro Lorenzetti's Last Supper in Assisi (c. 1520).

Two scientists at Tel Aviv University recently applied some scientific approaches to looking at the interactions of dogs and cats living in the same households. Neta-li Feuerstein and Joseph Terkel, Interrelationships of Dogs (Canis familiaris) and Cats (Felis catus L.) Living under the Same Roof, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 113, 150-165 (2008). Feuerstein and Terkel note that both species were attracted by the presence of food in human settlements. Cats served as controllers of vermin in grain supplies, and though this may have begun in Egypt, the oldest evidence of a domesticated cat comes from Cyprus around 9,500 years ago. These authors accept an older date for the emergence of the dog, somewhere between 35,000 and 100,000 years ago. They accept that cats are at an earlier phase of domestication than dogs.

Dogs and cats both belong to the order Carnivora, but their social behavior is quite different. Dogs live and hunt in packs, but cats are mostly solitary hunters. Feuerstein and Terkel conducted their research through questionnaires and observations in the homes of individuals having both species as pets. They hypothesized that an early age of adoption would make things smoother, and that early adoption would also increase the amount of understanding the member of one species might have of the body cues of the other. Direct observations included using fixed situations such as rolling a ball between a dog and a cat to determine whether mutual play would occur, and to observe any dominant behavior. Cat food was placed between the dog and the cat to see what this would bring about. Cat food was used because dogs like the high protein content of cat food.

The researchers noted that certain behaviors had different meanings for each species. Stretching out the forefeet is, for a dog, a sign of amicability and submission, but for the cat it is an aggressive behavior. Lying on the back is submissive for a dog, but aggressive for a cat. Moving the head away is submissive for a dog, but aggressive and dominant for a cat, and horizontal tail wagging is amicable and submissive for a dog, but aggressive and even a hunting posture for a cat.

Dominance behavior patterns of the cat include direct stare, pricked ears, and jumping to a high place (higher than the dog). Aggressive behavior patterns of cats include:

• Growl
• Hiss or spit
• Piloerection (along the back, tail, or both), whiskers may also be directed
• Extracted claws
• Thrashing tail
• Arching the back and tail (creating an inverted U shape of the tail)
• Raised fore-leg
• Attack (lunge, using fore-legs, claws extracted)
• Flattened ears (pointing backwards)
• Lying on the back
• Averted gaze (with enlarged pupils)

Fear and submission behavior patters of cats include:

• Ears turned backwards
• Excessive salivation
• Backing away
• Crouched walk (lowered back, close to the floor)
• Sideways movement
• Tail flattened to the body (sometimes between the hind legs)
• Retreating (to occupy a position as far as possible from the dog
• Grooming (licking and grooming the body)
• Head shake (from side to side)

Play behavior patterns of cats include chirping, purring, kneading (with sheathed claws), moving the tip of the tail, rolling on the ground, and licking the dog’s face or body. For dogs, dominance behavior patterns include tail raised above the level of the back, direct stare, standing tall or stiff walking, pricked ears, lips pooled forward, barking, moving over the cat. Aggressive behavior patters include wrinkled on the upper part of the shout, bared teeth, hackles raised between shoulders and tail, growling, and attacking. Fear and submissive behavior patters include:

• Averted gaze
• Lowered tail
• Crouching walk or posture
• Lying on the back
• Flattened ears
• Lips retracted
• High pitched whine
• High pitched bark
• Backing away
• Yawn
• Licking lips
• Blinking
• Retreating

Play behavior patters include the play bow, play growl, chasing, lying on the back, biting, licking motion in the air or on the cat’s body, and play face (relaxed, lips retracted, ears falling downwards).

The researchers found that cats performed significantly more play behavior and fear or submission towards the dog than the other way around. Female cats exhibited a higher level of both aggression and indifference to the dogs compared with male cats, and a lower level of amicability towards the dogs. Neutered female cats were more often afraid of dogs than intact females. Dogs were found to be more friendly to cats if the dogs if the cat came first in the home. With cats it did not matter which came first. Dogs were less aggressive if they encountered the cats before the dogs were a year old. With cats, they were more friendly if they encountered the dogs before being six months old. In other words, cats lose their ability to adapt to dogs at an earlier age than is true of dogs with respect to cats.

As to the four behaviors in the table above which have opposite meanings for the species, the authors found that the animals read the meaning of the other species “significantly correctly.” They believe that the longer period of adaptability in dogs reflects the fact that dogs, descended from wolves, must develop collaborative hunting skills over a longer period of time, whereas cats become solitary hunters and do not need such social skills.

The authors argue that through adding a dog to a house with a cat, “the cat’s quality of life can be improved.” I would have to note that our cat, Jack, would very much disagree. Jack was ten years old when we adopted Chloe. He had spent most of his life in a coop apartment in Brooklyn Heights that allowed cats, but not dogs (cats don’t have to go into common areas very often). We could only adopt a dog when we moved out of the building. Jack has never taken to Chloe, though he has over time gained the upper hand. She stays clear of him, and he hisses if she gets near. He has become a mean cat, probably reflecting his feeling that things were just fine before she arrived. They have never played together, though Chloe spent years trying to accomplish that. Everyone’s experience is different.

The war between dogs and cats has been a source of wonder, and often amusement, though history. The last panel from a reconstructed Egyptian wall painting, dating from soon after the domestication of cats, shows the mouse pharoah and his army attacking the cat fortress. The dogs aid the mice by pulling pharoah's chariot. Since the mice seem to be winning, it must be assumed that the current pharoah was a dog person (or a mouse person). A. Erman (1894) Life in Ancient Egypt, p. 520. Macmillan & Co. London.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Behavioral Repertoire Differences in Breeds Deserves Further Study

Some dogs still look much like wolves, and some dog populations have continued to interbreed with wolves. This raises the possibility that dogs that are closely genetically to wolves might also be closer behaviorally. Many of the interactions between domestic dogs are similar to the dominance and submission interactions of wolves within their packs. One team considered the question of whether the variation of signaling repertoire between breeds can be correlated with the degree of dissimilarity in overall appearance from the wolf. They also asked whether those breeds with the most restricted repertoires were more commonly using the behavioral patterns emerging earliest in the development of the wolf cub. Deborah Goodwin, John W.S. Bradshaw, and Stephen M. Wickens, “Paedomorphosis Affects Agonistic Visual Signals of Domestic Dogs,” 52(2) Animal Behaviour 297-304 (February 1997).

The breeds this group studied were the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Norfolk Terrier, Shetland Sheepdog, French Bulldog, Cocker Spaniel, Large Munsterlander, Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, and Siberian Husky. This list is from least wolf-like to the most wolf-like, as determined by 14 members of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, a UK organization ( The dogs were observed for “agonistic behavior”--behavior involving disputes--in situations where something was present that could bring about conflict—unfamiliar people, food, toys, shelter, and other dogs. Groups of each breed were studied interacting with each other so as to determine what behaviors would be used by members of each breed. The behaviors detected in each breed group are listed below. Growling and displacing, when they are found, generally occur in less than 20 days. Standing over and the inhibited bit occur within 20 to 30 days. The rest of the behaviors occur after 30 days. As can be seen, the breeds closest to the wolf (the list is again from furthest to closest) are the ones with the broadest behavior repertoire. Submissive behaviors are in italics.

• Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (CK) (growl, displace)
• Norfolk Terrier (NT) (growl, displace, stand erect)
• Shetland Sheepdog (SS) (growl, displace, bare teeth; muzzle lick)
• French Bulldog (FB) (growl, displace, stand erect; look away)
• Cocker Spaniel (CS) (growl, displace, stand over, stand erect, body wrestle; look away)
• Large Munsterlander (LM) (growl, displace, stand over, inhibited bite, stand erect, body wrestle; muzzle lick, crouch)
• Labrador Retriever (LR) (growl, displace, stand over, inhibited bite, stand erect, aggressive gape; muzzle lick, crouch, passive submit)
• German Shepherd (GS) (growl, displace, stand over, inhibited bite, stand erect, body wrestle, aggressive gape, bare teeth; muzzle lick, look away, crouch)
• Golden Retriever (GR) (growl, displace, stand over, inhibited bite, stand erect, body wrestle, aggressive gape, bare teeth, and stare; muzzle lick, look away, submissive grin, passive submit)
• Siberian Husky (SH) (growl, displace, stand over, inhibited bite, stand erect, body wrestle, aggressive gape, bare teeth, stare; muzzle lick, look away, crouch, submissive grin, passive submit, active submit)

It would have been better had the genetic similarity to the wolf been used rather than a group of pet behavior specialists, but perhaps that is a future research project. Nevertheless, the result was impressive: the dogs that were the least wolf-like from some perspectives also exhibited the fewest wolf-like patterns of agonistic behavior. Thus, dogs become morphologically more separated from wolves, and arguably showing a higher level of pedomorphosis (retention of juvenile traits into adulthood), they have more limited signaling repertoires, at least in situations involving aggression and submission.

The researchers noted that three of the four gundog breeds—-Cocker Spaniels, Labrador and Golden Retrievers—-retained more wolf-type behavior patterns than their appearance might suggest. They argue that the purpose for which the gundog breeds were developed may have required keeping a fuller range of ancestral behavior patterns than the two breeds derived from shepherding stock German Shepherds and Shetland Sheepdogs. It has been argued that the German Shepherd was developed from shepherding stock with the deliberate intention of producing a physically wolf-like animal, (M. Willis, The German Shepherd Dog: A Genetic History (Witherby 1991)), yet it displayed fewer wolf-type signals than the golden retriever. The researches suspect that once a behavior has been lost from the breed’s repertoire, “it cannot be reconstructed merely by altering the physical appearance of the breed.”

Another observation from the data was that dogs showed less submissive behavior than is found in wolves. They argue that the exhibition of escalated aggression towards other dogs is likely to be less costly than would be the case with wolves because humans intervene to stop conflicts between dogs and the physical cost of failing to display submissive behavior is reduced, allowing for such behaviors to be dropped from the repertoire.

A study published in 2009 looking at the social signaling of puppies in litters of some of the same breeds considered whether the puppies compensated for the morphological limitations on signaling (e.g., not being able to direct their ears because the breed has floppy ears) by more frequent use of those signals that they could make. They found no evidence for this. Keven J. Kerswell, Pauleen Bennett, Kym L. Butler, and Paul H. Hemsworth, “The Relationship of Adult Morphology and Early Social Signalling of the Domestic Dog (Canis familiaris),” 81 Behavioural Processes 376-382 (2009). Nor did they find any new types of signals replacing those that a breed had lost. The researchers acknowledged that “communication modalities, other than those that can be detected by human visual and auditory observation,” might yet exist. It is possible, perhaps probable, that dogs whose shape has been significantly altered from that of the ancestral wolf just have simpler behavior patterns.

This does not mean that King Charles Spaniels are dumb and Siberian Huskies are smart. A recent review of the literature on dogs’ ability to follow human pointing gestures concluded that no reviewed studies had established significant differences between breeds in their ability to understand pointing gestures. Nicole R. Dorey, Monique A.R. Udell, Clive D.L. Wynne, “Breed Differences in Dogs Sensitivity to Human Points: A Meta-analysis,” 81(3) Behaviour 409-415 (July 2009).

Monday, August 3, 2009

Claiming Service Animal Status After a Condo Board Refuses to Change a No-Pets Policy Requires Thinking Strategically

Soon after I began doing research on service and support dog access law I realized that by far the largest category of legal decisions are disputes over dogs in apartment buildings and other housing environments where there is a no-pets policy. It makes sense that these cases often lead to litigation. If a handicapped person tries to take a service dog into a restaurant and is refused, refusal may lead to a lawsuit, but people don’t always want to take the time to enforce their rights. A few letters will often change the restaurant’s policy and perhaps lead to some compensation, assuming the refusal wasn’t based on the fact that the dog really wasn’t a service dog to begin with. The same applies to transportation. People put up with a lot. But you can’t be so flexible about where you live. If your dog is a service or support animal, you’re going to have to fight to keep it with you. See my recent article on this: Service and Support Animals in Housing Law, by John Ensminger and Frances Breitkopf, GP/Solo Magazine (July/August 2009).

A recent federal district court case from Florida shows one type of housing case that seems to happen a lot. In Hawn v. Shoreline Towers Phase I Condominium Association, Inc., 2009 WL 691378 (ND Fla. 2009), Davis Hawn bought a condo in 2004, knowing the Association had a no-pets policy. Nevertheless, he obtained a Labrador Retriever named Booster about a year later and proposed to the condo board that it change its policy to allow pets. He felt that Booster would win everyone over. He did not at first claim that Booster was a service animal and the dog was a puppy when Hawn acquired him in any case. The Association took no action against him, but did not change its policy, and in 2006, he wrote another letter, now claiming that he was disabled and that Booster had been certified as a service animal. Hawn asserted that he had trouble walking and that the dog helped him with this and in overcoming the trauma of an attack that he suffered from the stepson of a friend. He said that Booster brought and removed his shoes and socks, opened the refrigerator and brought him water, pulled him out of his chair, and brought him his phone in case of an emergency or panic attack. The dog also comforted him after panic attacks. A psychologist wrote a letter for Hawn prescribing a service animal to help him with his “emotionally crippling disability.” The psychologist later admitted, however, that Hawn wrote much of it for him. Another letter was from a chiropractor who recommended that Hawn get a support animal to assist him with his movement disability. Hawn also wrote most of this letter for the chiropractor to sign. The court found the letters essentially useless as evidence.

At an Association board meeting, Hawn asked to speak to the board concerning his request to keep his “service animal.” The request was granted and Hawn told those present about his need for the dog. Sometime after the meeting, the general manager of the condo told Hawn that the board’s attorney needed more information, including documentation to support Hawn’s disabilities and the qualifications of the psychologist and the chiropractor. Hawn did not respond to this letter. The second letter, reproduced in the court’s decision, displays an understanding of the housing law regarding service and support animals. Hawn should probably have realized that he was being asked to conform his claim to legal requirements, but he ignored this letter as well. When Hawn was served with an eviction order, he filed the lawsuit.

The defendants—the Association and members of the board—moved for summary judgment. Hawn effectively argued that the defendants had violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing to make a reasonable accommodation. The district court reviewed federal and state law regarding reasonable accommodation, and concluded that Hawn had failed to establish that he was disabled or handicapped within the meaning of the FHA, or that the defendants knew an accommodation was necessary to provide him an equal opportunity to use and enjoy his dwelling. The court put the blame for this on Hawn, who had ignored both letters from the board. Hawn proceeded to get more evidence for his claim, some of which was much better than the two initial letters, but the court said he was too late and that the only relevant time period for deciding if Hawn was disabled was when the alleged discrimination occurred in September 2006 when the board finally denied Hawn’s request to keep Booster in his unit. Hawn should have responded to the board’s letters and gotten his information together at that time.

In considering the summary judgment motion of the condo, the court held that “no reasonable juror could conclude that the board knew the plaintiff was handicapped when it made the decision to deny his request.” The court saw this case as analogous to Prindable v. Association of Apartment Owners of 2987 Kalakaua, a case decided by the federal district court in Hawaii where a tenant had also ignored requests from an apartment owner for more information. The Florida district court concluded that there was no evidence that the Association would have refused to accommodate Hawn had he provided adequate documentation and granted summary judgment. Hawn was out of luck. The lesson of the case, for Florida and elsewhere, is that if a tenant obtains a dog that is not a service dog but trains it to become one, he or she should pay attention to the details of establishing the animal’s legitimate status, and should be cooperative with the landlord in supplying necessary information. A sympathetic court might overlook some lapses, but no one should ever bank on judicial benevolence.

The decision of the Northern District of Florida in Hawn was affirmed by the 11th Circuit. 347 Fed.Appx. 464, 2009 WL 3004036 (2009). 

Friday, July 31, 2009

Dogs Take Our Visual Perspective Into Account When Obeying Our Commands

Dogs have been shown in numerous experiments to be very good at following a human’s pointing gestures to find hidden food. They have even been shown to follow the movements of our eyes. This is generally thought to prove that in the process of domestication they have learned to interpret certain signals given by humans. Most other species, including apes and wolves, do not follow our gestures as well, though there are some studies of wolves that indicate they may be able to understand pointing gestures just as well, or even better in certain settings, than dogs. A recent study by scientists at Cambridge University and the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig asked a different question. Do dogs consider a human’s visual perspective in attempting to carry out that human’s command? Put another way, do dogs interpret the command by taking into account what they know the human can see and what they know he cannot see?

The experiment was designed as follows. A human stood at one end of a room and a dog at the other end. There were two barriers closer to the human. On the side of the barriers where the dog stood were two toys. One of the barriers was opaque and prevented the human from seeing the toy on the dog’s side of the barrier. The other barrier was transparent and though it was between the human and the toy, the human could see through it. The human, without looking at either toy and without signaling in any way, commands the dog to FETCH. The dog will be rewarded if he brings either toy to the human. That is the first situation depicted in the figure (click on the figure to see an enlargement).

In the second situation, the human stands behind the dog and both of them are able to see both of the toys. Each toy is beside a barrier as before, and one of the barriers is opaque and one transparent, but neither block the human’s view of the toy since the human has the same perspective as the dog. Here again, the command is to FETCH.

In the third situation, the human is back on the side of the barrier where he could only see the toy beside the transparent barrier, but his back is turned so that he sees neither toy, nor the barriers, nor the dog. Again he tells the dog to FETCH.

In each situation the dog could bring either toy to the human, yet the choices the dogs made in the first situation were not random. In 70% or more of the cases the dogs brought the toy that the human could see to him on the command to FETCH. In the third situation, where the human was looking away from everything in the room, the dogs brought the toy beside the transparent barrier about 60% of the time, as if expecting that the human’s command would apply to the toy he could see if he did turn around. Only in the second situation, where the dog was aware that he and the human could see both toys did the dogs choose almost randomly, with slightly more than half of the dogs in the experiment choosing the toy beside the transparent barrier. Different dogs were used for each of the three situations.

The researchers concluded that dogs take into account the perspectives of humans in deciding how to interpret their commands. They do not just choose from what they themselves can see. They take into account what we can see. When I began taking lessons with Chloe, Rick Manley of the Phoenix Field and Obedience Club told me not to let my frustration get to me. "She does want you to be happy. You have to learn to understand each other." Perhaps this research provides a scientific basis for his statement. Juliane Kaminski, Juliane Brauer, Josep Call, and Michael Tomasello, “Domestic Dogs Are Sensitive to a Human’s Perspective,” 146 Behaviour 978-998 (2009)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Empathy Responses of Dogs to Other Dogs?

Wolves and feral dogs live and hunt or scavenge in groups. Conflicts can arise between members of a group over food, efforts to mate, and for other reasons. Resolving these conflicts becomes important, since continuing hostility can reduce the effectiveness of the group to act as a unit. Curiously, conflict resolution has not often been studied in dogs, so recently published research by three Belgian scientists at the University of Antwerp is particularly interesting. The researchers used dogs that were housed at a pet food production company, but the dogs were not used to test food during the period of the research. The dogs were housed in pens that held two or three dogs and all were between three and ten years old. During the day the dogs in the group that was being studied were released for many hours to a meadow surrounded by a fence where their interactions were recorded by observers. The first and second groups studied consisted of seven dogs, four males and three females. The third group was formed from two Labrador Retrievers from the first group and four from the second, four of them male and two female. The groups are depicted in the figure.

When a group was released to the meadow, observers recorded conflict interactions of the dogs, dividing their behavior into light aggression (growling, directed barking, bending over, inhibited biting, head-prodding), grave aggression (biting, fighting, knocking down), submission (active submission, passive submission, averting eyes), affiliation (greeting, sitting/lying down together, anogenital sniffing, playing, licking), and neutral behaviors (sitting/lying down alone, drinking, throwing ground, following). If grave aggression did not end within several seconds, an observer intervened to prevent serious injury. Most conflicts were brief, lasting only a few seconds, in which one of the opponents often made a submissive gesture. The most common form of physical conflict arose when a male paid more attention to a female than she cared for.

The observers recorded 1711 conflicts, with former opponents making up by some affiliation behavior in 606 cases (a little over a third), and third parties providing some affiliation in 621 cases (also over a third). The remaining cases ended without reported affiliation behavior. In these cases, the opponents usually avoided each other for several minutes or more. Where third parties—dogs not involved in the conflict—engaged in affiliation behavior, loser directed affiliation was the most common behavior, and in these situations the intervention was more often initiated by the third party rather than by the loser. This meant that true consolation seemed to be involved, as opposed to solicited consolation by the loser whimpering or seeking attention. Affiliative behavior was generally observed more between dogs that shared pens, supporting the “valuable relationship hypothesis,” which predicts that reconciliation will be more frequent between opponents whose relationship is of high biological value. This arguably is present between dogs that share the same pen and must learn to get along.

The authors admit that their study does not prove cognitive empathy in dogs, but they believe that “dogs do possess significant social cognition.” Given that wolf packs are often larger than packs of feral dogs, it would be important (though very difficult) to determine the extent of conflict resolution in the group behavior of wolves. Annemieke K.A. Cools, Alain J.-M. Van Hout, and Mark H.J. Nelissen, “Canine Reconciliation and Third-Party Initiated Postconflict Affiliation: Do Peacemaking Social Mechanisms in Dogs Rival Those of Higher Primates?” 114 Ethology 53-63 (2008).

Additional Note. Ronald Keats, a Shiba Inu owner, has been following the plight of dogs in Japan following the 2011 earthquake and sent me a YouTube link, showing a dog that would not leave his friend's side. Hopefully some of the people filming this took some action.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why Do Dogs Respond to Our Social Cues?

A focus of research on dog behavior has concerned the ability of dogs to respond to our social cues. In object choice tasks, a dog will have to decide which of two or more containers contains food. With certain controls, the dog unaided by a human will only perform at chance levels. If, however, a human points to the correct container, the dogs will much more likely go to it than the others. Even a human moving his eyes from the dog to the correct container and back and forth in this manner will help the dogs make the right choice, though not as often as pointing. Dogs will also choose the container a human is pointing at even if this is the wrong container, they’ve had a chance to smell the container with the food, and their noses should tell them to ignore the human’s pointing gesture. They trust us even when they shouldn’t. These findings, long known among canine behaviorists, lead to another question. Why do they follow our gestures when other animals, such as apes, don’t? Do they know we are trying to help them? Have they learned to trust us in the process of domestication? Pamela J. Reid of the ASPCA’s Animal Behavior Center in Urbana, Illinois, recently reviewed the literature on this topic, looking at the various hypotheses that have been propounded to explain why dogs read us so well. She distilled the conclusions of prior researchers down to four basic theories:

1. Dogs learn to respond to human social cues through basic conditioning processes.
2. Dogs reduced their fear of humans in the process of domestication and began to apply all-purpose problem-solving skills to their interactions with people.
3. Dogs’ co-evolution with humans equipped them with the cognitive machinery to respond to human social cues and understand our mental states (sometimes called a “theory of mind”).
4. Dogs are adaptively predisposed to learn about human communication gestures.

Reid herself favors the fourth explanation.

As to the first of the four theories, Reid notes that although dogs respond better to social cues after training, they perform significantly above chance even without prior experience with a pointing cue. Wolves raised the same way as dogs will not succeed as well as dogs in responding to pointing gestures.

Some researchers have argued that selection pressures placed on dogs for tameness and other desirable traits may have also been a stimulus for dogs to develop a specialized set of social skills. Dogs have learned to eat in the presence of humans and to accept restraint and in the process of domestication became expert readers of human social cues. Most (but not all) studies have found that dogs respond to social cues from humans far better than do wolves, their undomesticated ancestors. (Contrary research has recently been published by Monique Udell of the University of Florida and her colleagues.) Reid notes that Belyaev’s foxes, domesticated artificially, can follow pointing gestures as well as dog puppies of the same age, and are better at it than wild foxes. New Guinea Singing Dogs, similar to Australian dingoes, also perform of above chance, indicating that the ability to respond to human cues probably began in the earliest phases of domestication, since these unique dogs had only a rudimentary level of domestication before losing human contact. Perhaps dogs have learned to apply general rules of thumb such as “always approach the closest extension of the person,” or “always approach the person’s movement.” Such a mechanism would generally lead to the correct container in object choice tasks where a piece of food is placed in one of two or three containers and a human points to the correct container.

Reid attributes the third theory on the list above to the work of Adam Miklosi and Jozsef Topal and their colleagues, who argue that dogs and humans have evolved together to such an extent that human-like social skills have materialized in the dog in a process sometimes termed convergent evolution. This comes close to arguing that a dog understands that the human is trying to convey the location of food with a gesture. Miklosi has shown that dogs faced with an insoluble problem will look at a nearby human as though soliciting assistance. Reid argues that those scientists that take this “theory of mind” approach have found more sophisticated cognition in dogs than is justified by their research. It is, of course, likely that most pet owners would prefer to believe that there is a high level of human understanding in their pets.

Reid thinks the answer lies in the biological status of the dog as a scavenger, a niche that requires that an animal be acutely aware of other individuals in the social group that are also looking for opportunities to scrounge. They respond to our gestures towards food sources just as they respond to the other members of a pack that may be on the trail of a food source. This skill, combined with a tendency to learn, provided dogs with the skill to respond appropriately to our gestures, she argues. Reid admits that further research will be needed to narrow down the possible explanations as to why dogs are able to respond to our social cues. Pamela J. Reid, “Adapting to the Human World: Dogs’ Responsiveness to Our Social Cues,” 80 Behavioural Processes 325-333 (2009).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dogs Identify Murder Suspect from Manure on Shoe

Something of a precursor to the modern scent lineup is described by Adee Schoon and Ruud Haak in their book, K9 Suspect Discrimination. In 1918, a farmer was murdered near the town of Breezand in Holland. Fingerprints taken from the crime scene were found to belong to one suspect, who confessed and implicated two other men, one of whom was also apprehended. This second suspect had slipped when climbing through a barn window and his right foot went into a manure gutter. When asked about the manure still on his shoes, the suspect said that he had recently gone to a cattle market in the town of Purmerend, where he had stepped in manure. The investigator in the case, Van Ledden Hulsebosch, wondered if a dog could distinguish between manure obtained from different locations. He asked the gendarme from Breezand to bring him cow manure from 12 different locations, including the place where the murder had occurred. The manure from the different locations was put into 12 clean jam jars, which were numbered and labeled indicating the cowshed from which the manure was obtained. Hulsebosch took 72 pieces of paper and divided them into six groups of 12, labeling each of the 12 sheets according to the numbers on the jam jars holding the manure. Manure was then spread on the papers, which were then laid out in the courtyard of the police headquarters. The inspector let dogs sniff the manure from one barn, then released them in the courtyard to find the sheet with manure from the same source. The dogs alerted to the correct piece of paper. The experiment was repeated a number of times, with the correct paper identified every time. The next phase involved the shoes of the suspect. The suspect’s left shoe had no manure on it and the dogs did not react to it. When they were presented with the right shoe, the one with manure on it, they began searching until they found the piece of paper in the courtyard with the same scent on it. That piece of paper held manure taken from the barn where the farmer had been killed. The dogs had identified a second participant in the crime. Adee Schoon and Ruud Haak, K9 Suspect Discrimination, 27-28 (Detselig Enterprizes 2002).

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Cancer Sniffers

Training dogs to detect lung and breast cancers requires a rigorous training approach. A team that used 3 Labrador Retrievers and 2 Portuguese Water Dogs taught the dogs to distinguish a tube with a cancer breath sample and food from four blank tubes. In this, the first stage, the dogs were taught to SIT before the correct sample, then received food and praise. In the second stage, the dogs still distinguished a tube with a cancer breath sample and food from blank tubes, but the handler did not know which tube was correct. The dogs got food and praise on sitting before the correct tube. In the third stage they received the same rewards, but there was no food in the tube with the cancer breath sample. They were also reprimanded with a No! if they chose the wrong sample in this stage. In the fourth phase, each tube had a breath sample, but only one had a cancer breath sample. In the final phase, it was possible that all five tubes had cancer-free samples, so that alerting to any of them would be a fail. One tube might have a cancer breath sample, requiring an alert. Neither the handler or the experimenter knew if there was a cancer sample in this final stage, and dogs received no reward at this stage for a correct alert until they left the experimental room. (Click on the table to the right, showing the stages of training, for a larger image.) A dog was not fully trained until it made no mistake for 30 consecutive trials. The dogs could not detect patients in remission, but for one individual thought to be in remission, the dogs sat before her breath and the cancer was later found to be active again. Dogs detected lung cancer with 99% consistency with biopsy-confirmed diagnoses, and breast cancer with 88% consistency. Michael McCulloch, Tadeusz Jezierski, Michael Broffman, Alan Hubbard, Kirk Turner, and Teresa Janecki, “Diagnostic Accuracy of Canine Scent Detection in Early- and Late-Stage Lung and Breast Cancers,” 5(1) Integrative Cancer Therapies 30-39 (March 2006). There are a number of legal or at least ethical issues that will arise if this dog function becomes more prevalent. As Mary Elizabeth Thurston noted in her wonderful book, Lost History of the Canine Race (p. 58 in the Avon edition), sniffer dogs might be useful in poor countries. I have previously suggested that they might be taken to remote locations in parts of the U.S. Will this mean they are owned by facilities and are essentially laboratory dogs? What protections can they be given? Will facilities that use them have to cover them with malpractice insurance?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Service Dogs for Autistic Children Also Help Their Families

Service dogs for autistic children are proving beneficial for both the children and their families. National Service Dogs of Cambridge, Ontario, uses a double-leash system where the autistic child is attached to the dog by a leash that is attached to the child’s belt. A parent or other person holds a separate leash. The dog obeys the parent’s commands, but is also trained to prevent the child from bolting away from the parent, or into traffic. Golden and Labrador Retrievers are preferred by National Service Dogs for this work. Three researchers studying ten families where such dogs had been placed found that in addition to keeping the child safe, autistic children began to walk at the dog’s speed, making going places more pleasant for the whole family. Families reported that they generally let the dog sleep with the child, and both children and families often slept better. The autistic children were reported to learn new skills with the dog. “Parents reported a wide variety of physical tasks that were facilitated by the dog’s participation. One child learned how to take the lid off a dog food container, pour the food into the dog’s bowl, place the bowl on the floor, and look at the parent to give the dog a command to eat the food. A number of children learned how to pick up and throw a ball for their dog. Motor function improvements were gained by the parents sitting with the child and helping him/her learn how to pet the dog. Many of the children struggled to control their movements to pet the dog, and by using the dog as a therapeutic tool the parents were able to teach the children to pet or caress the dogs gently. Children learned to throw a ball and manipulated grooming tools.” The Canadian researchers reported that families began to consider taking vacations after getting a service dog because traveling with the autistic child became easier. People encountering families with service dogs were also friendlier, and the families were less inclined to avoid interactions for fear that the autistic child would have a tantrum. As with many service dogs, there is more demand than there is supply, and it is to be hoped that more service dogs can be trained to live with families with autistic children. Kristen E. Burrows, Cindy L. Adams, and Jude Spiers, “Sentinels of Safety: Service Dogs Ensure Safety and Enhance Freedom and Well-Being for Families with Autistic Children,” 18(12) Qualitative Health Research 1642-1649 (2008).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Older Bloodhounds Track Two-Day Old Trail Almost Perfectly in Multiple Environments

A professor and a member of the San Bernardino police department determined to test the tracking abilities of bloodhounds that had received more than 18 months of training against bloodhounds that had received less training. They obtained four dogs in each category and performed the following test. Subjects down trails from a half mile to a mile and a half long in five separate areas at five separate times. Two of the areas were in regional parks, a third area was a college campus, and two of the areas were in downtown San Bernardino. The subjects laid down the trails 48 hours before each dog was brought to the starting point of a separate trail. The subjects were given maps which showed them where to begin and where to end. With each subject was a partner whose scent would not be given to the dog. About 50 feet from the end point of a trail, the subject and the partner would separate and find a place to hide behind an object, such as a tree or a building. After standing in this location for about ten minutes, the subjects and the partners were driven away by a car which did not cross the trail they had laid at any point. Two days later, when the dogs were brought to the beginning point of each trail, the subject and the partner were brought back to hide in the locations where they had previously stood for ten minutes. Neither the handlers nor the researchers watching the dogs work knew where the trails went or which subjects the dogs were supposed to alert to. Scent had been taken from each subject using a scent transfer unit (STU-100, see picture), which put the subject’s scent on a gauze pad. The dog was allowed to smell the gauze pad (with no other contact with the subject) at the beginning of the trail, then commanded to TRAIL. Most of the trails had been crossed by hundreds if not thousands of people between the time the trails were laid and when the dogs began to track. At one regional park, a trout fishing contest meant more than 1,000 people had crossed the trails. The trails on the campus and in downtown San Bernardino involved tracking on cement and asphalt. Rain had fallen before the first trails were laid. Of the 20 trails that the younger, less experienced dogs followed, 12 were run to completion, with the subject found by the dog. One dog identified a partner rather than a subject in one trial. Of the 20 trails followed by the veteran dogs, however, 19 were run to completion with the subject alerted to. The researchers noted the following concerning the single veteran dog failure. “The one veteran bloodhound that did not make the find was distracted by a foul smelling dumpsite that was located about 300 yd off the trail. The handler was not able to keep the dog’s attention on the trail and decided to stop his dog. Once the dog was walked a substantial distance from the dumpsite, she continued the trail and made the find.” The researchers suspected that the poorer performance of the younger dogs was in part due to their less mature neurological systems. The two youngest dogs in the experiment were only 10 and 11 months old, respectively. Within three months of the test, both had improved to a level of 100% on subsequent tests. Lisa M. Harvey and Jeffrey S. Harvey, “Reliability of Bloodhounds in Criminal Investigations,” 48(4) Journal of Forensic Science 811-816 (July 2003).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dogs Detect Scent of Cadavers Up to Two Months After Indirect Contact with Carpeting

A German research team was asked by the Hamburg Police Department how long a dead body would have to have contact with a mattress or a carpet for a cadaver dog to detect that a body had been on the item. This question arose from a real case involving a married couple that went sailing in their yacht. The husband returned alone and reported his wife missing, but the police soon regarded him as a suspect. They brought a cadaver dog onto the yacht, which alerted in the cabin. Although this would not have been enough for a conviction, the researchers argued that it justified further investigation. They designed an experiment to answer the question of the Hamburg police. Two men who had died only two hours before were wrapped in cotton blankets. Carpet squares were placed under their backs, touching the blankets but not the bodies. The squares were left under the men for either two minutes or ten minutes, then removed and placed in sealed containers. Carpet squares were also placed under living men, also without direct contact. The carpet squares were then used in a test of the skills of three cadaver dogs of the Hamburg Police Department, two Malinois and a herding dog. One of the Malinois had five years of experience, while the other two had about a year and a half. They were tested the day of the exposure, but up to 35 days later for the two-minute exposed squares and 65 days for the ten-minute exposed squares. The dogs sometimes failed to identify the two-minute squares, but two of the dogs were perfect on the ten-minute squares. Collectively the dogs alerted accurately 86% of the time on the two-minute squares and 98% of the time on the ten-minute exposed squares (with only one dog have any incorrect alerts). The message to the criminals apparently is, if you’re going to move a body, do it quickly or the dog will find you out. L. Oesterhelweg, S. Krober, K. Rottmann, J. Willhoft, C. Braun, N. Thies, K. Puschel, J. Sildenath, and A. Gehl, “Cadaver Dogs—A Study on Detection of Contaminated Carpet Squares,” 174 Forensic Science International 35-39 (2008).

Additional Note.  A recent article discusses a dog trained on detection of bones hundred of years old.  A scientific evaluation of this report would be useful. 

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hollywood Depictions Make Life Harder for Real Dogs

A few blogs ago, Liz Stroter talked about one of the reasons that people do not adapt to dogs and give them up to shelters: the expectations that are created by televisions shows that a stern hand and a few rough words will change the dog’s behavior in a matter of weeks. When the expectations are not fulfilled, the dog goes to the pound. Another reason people give up on dogs is that TV and film depictions lead people to believe—particularly people without experience in raising dogs—that dogs are merely rather simple happy people who cannot speak. This has the effect that many people may believe that a dog that is destructive of furniture is not only mischievous, but actually bad. If the dog is continually bad, perhaps he is evil. This means that leaving the dog at a shelter where he will ultimately be euthanized may actually be deserved. “He was just a bad dog. There was nothing we could do about it. We tried. We really tried. George took him out for a walk twice a day. He didn’t care. He still pooped on the kitchen floor in front of the refrigerator. He just didn’t care.” Recently on a transcontinental flight I watched Firehouse Dog. Aside from the improbabilities of a typical Hollywood story, a dog that is adopted by a firehouse is taken to an agility trial, where without any apparent experience, he runs through most of the trial following the commands of a boy who has never worked with him, performing each feat flawlessly. This is not a good lesson for a teenager who has been given his or her first dog. Hollywood depictions of animals has become something of a sociological topic. See Marla V. Anderson and Antonia J.Z. Henderson, “Pernicious Portrayals: The Impact of Children’s Attachment to Animals of Fiction on Animals in Fact,” 13(4) Society & Animals (2005).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sociability of Nursing Home Residents Declines After Pet Visitations Cease

For some years, my consulting practice has allowed me to live in Phoenix in the winter and spring and Stone Ridge, New York, in the summer and fall. This creates a problem in volunteering with Chloe for therapy dog assignments. There comes a time when we must say good-bye for six months. I was particularly worried about this for the nursing home we visit in Youngtown, west of Phoenix. Many of the residents are hospice patients (we visit through the auspices of Hospice of the Valley, a large non-profit hospice system in Arizona), which means that many of them are not expected to live for more than six months. When we return after Thanksgiving, some of Chloe’s friends will no longer be there. Her biggest fan in the home is 99 years old, a veteran of several wars. Another is a woman of 105. In reading one of the earlier studies on pet facilitated therapy in nursing homes, I got a sense of the quantitative effect of our visits, and of the quantitative effect of our ceasing to visit. Ira B. Perelle and Diane A. Granville, Assessment of the Effectiveness of a Pet Facilitated Therapy Program in a Nursing Home Setting, 1(1) Animals & Society (1993). Perelle and Granville used four cats, two small dogs, and one rabbit, and visited 18 men and 35 women in a nursing home for ten weeks. They measured the sociability of the residents using what they called a Patient Social Behavior Scale designed for the study. The scale attempted to measure various social and self-maintenance behaviors. They found that the patients visited improved in their sociability while the pets were visiting, but men improved quickly and women more gradually over the period of the study. Unfortunately, all declined after the study was completed, though not back to the point where they had been before the study began. Eleven residents had to be dressed by others prior to the start of the study, but only three had to be dressed by the end of the visitations. This number rose to seven again in the four weeks after the visitations were over. The staff of the home were particularly impressed by how men interacted more with other residents because of the study. My experience has also been that men often sit in their wheelchairs at favored places in the hallway but do not interact. The women go to the activity room and interact with the staff and each other. Chloe often became a subject of conversation between the men and sometimes seemed to allow them to talk to each other. Perelle and Granville noted that they were able to conduct their study because of a cooperative administration and staff. They said something that caught my attention at the end of their paper: “Experience and the literature indicate that most institutions are not at all amenable to the introduction of animals of any type.” They wrote this in 1993. I doubt that this statement would be made now. The nursing home where I take Chloe in Arizona has been trying to find a replacement for Chloe for the months we are not there. Unfortunately, there is much more demand for therapy animals now than there is supply.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How Many Footsteps Do Tracking Dogs Need to Determine Direction of a Scent?

A man crosses a football field. Twenty minutes later a tracking dog is brought to the midpoint of the trail and commanded to TRACK. The dog will sniff the area, perhaps back-track a few steps, and then move in the direction that the man walked across the field. How does the dog know which direction the man was moving in? How many footsteps does the dog need to be able to smell to determine the direction the man was walking? Two researchers in Belfast asked these questions and devised an elegant experiment that may have narrowed the possible answers to the first question. As to the second question, the dog cannot reliably tell direction if there are only three steps but it can do so if there are five. Here’s how the experiment was conducted: A dark beige wool carpet was cut into 18-inch squares. Twenty-one squares were lined up and a man walked across them, stepping once on each square. As in the football field, the dogs were brought to the midpoint and told to TRACK. Neither the handler nor the dog had seen the man walking on the squares. The dogs, which had been trained as trackers, reliably went in the direction the man had gone. Two squares were removed so that there were only 19 squares. The dogs were still reliable. Then two more were removed, and so on. The dogs retained their ability to detect the direction of the trail down to five squares, but at three their choice of direction became random. They needed more than three footsteps. Could it be the direction of the footsteps that the dogs used to determine direction? After all, the heel hits before the toe and perhaps this provided a cue. So the researchers mixed up the squares, using a computer program for randomness, but kept the direction of the heel-toe axis of each square facing the same direction as the man had walked. The dogs were not successful in finding the correct direction. They did not seem to be able to rely on general body deposition (the plume of skin flakes, etc.) to determine the direction of the target. The researchers theorized that there is an odor gradient that results from either a stronger smell for more recent tracks that gives the direction to the dog, or alternatively, there is a decay factor which is stronger in the footprints from the direction that the man began at, which the dog used as a signal to move in the opposite direction. The researchers are working on additional experiments to answer more questions about the tracking skills of dogs. D.L. Wells and P.G. Hepper, “Directional Tracking in the Domestic Dog, Canis familiaris,” 84 Applied Animal Behaviour Science 297-305 (2003).