Letter from CAIRC
July 2001 Vol.5 No.3

Third Presentation of Research Results on the Relationship
between Humans and Companion Animals

Six Scholarship Awardees Present Their Research Results!

Every year since 1998, the Companion Animal Information and Research Center (CAIRC) has granted scholarships as a means of encouraging progress in the study of the relationship between humans and companion animals. This report includes the results of the six most recent research projects selected for the scholarship.

A meeting was held on June 13 at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo's Chiyoda ward for the presentation of findings from the 3rd annual CAIRC Scholarship on the relationship between humans and companion animals. The event was attended by 8 researchers and co-researches; Chie Hashizume, Haruka Takakura, Yoko Niimi, Masahiko Motooka, Takayoshi Yamaguchi, Ryoko Ueoka, Michiko Saito, and Prof. Toshio Tanaka of Azabu University. Also in attendance were the selection committee, made up of Prof. Mitsuaki Ohta of Azabu University, Prof. Yuji Mori of the University of Tokyo and CAIRC Chairman and University of Tokyo Professor Emeritus, Dr. Yoichi Shoda. The previously scheduled report on Ms. Hashizume's research results was postponed until the current annual meeting, due to the circumstances affecting the project. The presentation of research results began with the following address by Dr. Shoda.

"We have a rich body of research from a diverse range of scientific fields for this presentation. Three of these research projects are zoological studies that shed light on the characteristics of companion animals from the perspectives of genetics and environment. We also have a medical study that examines the benefits that companion animals can provide through animal-assisted therapy, and another study was conducted from an engineering standpoint, looking at how telecommunications can help strengthen the relationships between humans and companion animals. Further, there is an ethnological study that searches the Tibetan view of animals.

"It gives me great pleasure to note that, taken as a whole, this year's body of research is even more diverse than that of last year, with a richly interdisciplinary aspect. In September of this year, a major international conference on the study of human-animal relations will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Two of the awardees of the past scholarships have been selected to make presentations at this meeting. That gives me a heightened sense of anticipation for the research to be presented to us this time."

This time, we have two presentations of research results in the field of genetics. They are on the cutting edge of this field, involving the search for genes related to behavioral traits and personality characteristics. In response to a question from a participant, Prof. Mori explained these two research projects: "The methodologies of the two research projects are similar. Ms. Hashizume's research looks at Labrador Retrievers in order to elucidate the variations among individuals within a single variety of animal.

"In appraising the suitability of a canine as a guide dog, a professional trainer with ample experience in judging dogs makes a conscientious determination. One of the exogenic criteria used in making this determination can involve searching for genetic polymorphism, or minor differences among the genetic base sequences of individuals belonging to the same species, in the dogs.

"On the other hand, the research of Ms. Niimi and her colleagues is a search for the genes related to the differences in behavioral characteristics of different varieties of dogs — in this case, the affinity Golden Retrievers have for humans, and the loyalty of Japan's representative dog, Shiba, to a particular owner.

"Until now, it has not been known how to objectively evaluate the relative influence of genetic and acquired factors. But these new studies greatly heighten our anticipation that the skilled use of genetic information as objective indicators can make possible a new approach."

Prof. Mori also offered the following overall evaluation of the latest research: "This third scholarship has provided me with my first opportunity to serve as a member of the selection committee, so I feel extremely strong sense of commitment to this work. I eagerly looked forward to seeing the fruits of these research projects since last year. This scholarship program receives many applications from a wide range of researchers every year, which I think amounts to a meaningful way of stimulating young researchers.

"Once again this year we received a great many highly sophisticated applications from researchers in a wide range of research genres, which made it a particularly difficult task for us as members of the selection committee to decide how to strike a balance in the selection process. Although, the research period this time has been brief, it gives me great pleasure to see that these researchers have compiled such excellent research reports. I fully expect that this will lead to the future development of this field."

Study of Behavior-Related Canine Genes and the Evaluation of Canine Behavior: Potential for More Effective Determination of Dogs' Suitability for Guide Dogs

Research theme: A study of behavior-related canine genetics in individual guide dog candidates

By Chie Hashizume, Haruka Takakura. Prof. Benjamin L. Hart

The purpose of this research project was an investigation into the genetic factors related to canine temperament. We began by testing 197 guide dog candidates, which were divided into three groups: those who passed the guide dog aptitude examination, those who did not pass, and those who failed to qualify due to medical reasons alone. We then conducted an analysis of the behavioral evaluation of each group.

The dogs chosen as subjects for the study by Hashizume's research group were guide dog candidates raised by the Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc., located in the San Francisco Suburb Area, CA. By variety, 130 of the dogs chosen were Labradors, 25 were Golden Retrievers, 20 were mixtures of these two breeds, while 22 were German Shepherds, for a total of 197.

To begin with, we conducted analyses of the behavioral evaluations generated by each guide dog candidate's trainer, taking into consideration the scoring of the behavioral evaluation and whether the dog had passed the guide dog qualification exam. We then examined a section of the dog's DNA analogous to the position in human DNA of monoamin oxidase A (MAOA), which has been found to be associated with aggression in rodents, for the presence of genetic polymorphism.

"Up to now, scoring for both anxiety tendency and aggressiveness have been heavily weighted in the screening of dogs for appropriateness as guide animals. However, a statistical analysis of the distribution of behavioral evaluation figures showed that aggression scores in dogs that passed the qualification screening were significantly lower than those for dogs that did not pass. This result reflects the fact that guide dog qualification tests at the Guide Dogs For the Blind, Inc. places more importance on aggressiveness more than anxiety tendencies.

"Since previous reports have included varying results with respect to this point, we would like to move ahead with more thorough analysis of more detailed data. But the results of the genetic analysis showed no instances of polymorphism in the DNA segments under study. Thus, we intend to continue our search for behavior-related genetic material, expanding the extent of the DNA segments covered in the search, as well as the group of dogs under study."

Selection committee member Prof. Ohta commented on this project: "Animal behavior manifests itself as the product of a synthesis of internal changes that result from a range of stimuli. We would thus like to see attention paid to the evaluation of the internal changes that associate genetics with behavior. That is, it pleases me to see research that delves deeply into the associations between genetic traits and these internal changes." We look forward to the further research results.

This research project was the subject of the second annual scholarship, and was selected for the award in 1999. Due to a delay in the starting time of the study, the research report was presented to us one year later than planned.

Canine Personality Gene DRD4 Revealed — Five New Alleles Discerned, Suggesting Link with Submissive, Aggressive Behavior

Research theme: A trial of prediction of aptitude in service dogs — personality-related genes used as indicators

By Yoko Niimi, Naoto Matsuura, Dr. Miho (Murayama) Inoue

The search for genes associated with personality made a stride forward in 1996 with a report of the discovery of a gene related to the tendency to seek novelty, and genes associated with buoyant and anxious personality traits have also been discovered. The gene initially discovered to be associated with novelty-seeking, or the "fad gene," is the dopamine receptor gene D4 (DRD4).

It has been reported that within DRD4 there is a repetitive sequence polymorphism, in which a greater number of repetitions of the allele coincides with stronger curiosity. Yoko Niimiís research group is working on the isolation of such personality-related genes in dogs. They are attempting to verify the potential association between specific genes in dogs and personality and behavior, and have already published a number of research papers.

In 1999, Ms. Niimi and her associates conducted a study of this section of canine DNA, and reported that they had confirmed the existence of the repeated sequence in the DRD4 gene, and identified four types of allele. In this research project, they have identified 5 more types of allele, confirming the existence of a total of 9. In addition, they conducted a genetic analysis focusing on these allelic genes of 14 breeds of dog, each of which have differing behavioral characteristics.

"Upon conducting a principal component analysis based on the frequency of these alleles, we were able to establish correlations between base scores for each of the 14 breeds and behavioral scoring for each breed based on a survey of canine veterinarians. Among 6 behavioral characteristics such as playfulness and obedience, it became evident that specific alleles were linked to obedience and aggression toward other dogs. In addition, a comparison of varieties of dog indigenous to Europe and Asia showed distinctions in the distribution of the frequencies of these alleles."

Currently, the training of a guide dog requires two years and involves an enormous cost, and ultimately only one in three of them are able to work as guide dogs. If genes associated with behavioral characteristics can be found, it may become possible to breed dogs appropriately as well as to selectively raise dogs more effectively.

Dr. Shoda evaluated this research project very highly. "I think research into the potential for forecasting the aptitude of service dogs, as well as more effective raising has a high degree of utility, " he said.

Walking with Dogs is Good for Patients with Postmyocardial Infarction Syndrome — Tends to Reduce Irregular Heart Rhythms; Reduces Stress Because It's Enjoyable

Research theme: The trial of the animal assisted therapy by the dog to QOL (quality of life) improvement in the patient with chronic myocardial infarction

By Masahiko Motooka

Masahiko Motooka's specialty is cardiovascular endocrinology. In this research project, he has designed a trial program in which the approach is to adapt animal-assisted therapy (AAT) to auxiliary home therapy for patients who have suffered cardiac infarction, with an emphasis on creating a therapeutic program that is easy for patients to adopt. The research into AAT involved a comparison between dog owners and subjects without dogs. It was reported that the survival rate was higher one year after surgery for dog owners, and that dog ownership helps prevent and slow the progress of heart disease.

Unfortunately, few facilities for patients with chronic cardiac infarction accept the introduction of AAT, and in many cases it has not been successfully carried out. Given these circumstances, Mr. Motooka's research holds out a great deal of hope for patients with ischemic heart disease (IHD), as well as those suffering from high blood pressure.

The research included an animal-mediated test centered around walking activity. After 10 minutes of rest, subjects walked for 20 minutes, and then rested for another 15 minutes. Initially, the blood pressure, pulse and heart function of healthy subjects averaging 63 years in age were measured over three repetitions of this course of activity. Next, chronic cardiac infarction patients averaging 66 years in age were put through the course, and their blood pressure, pulse and heart function was also measured.

"These test results indicated that in both dog-mediated walking and non-dog-mediated walking, both healthy subjects and patients experienced significant suppression of the sympathetic nervous system that increased in correlation with repetition of the activity, as well as significant activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.

"Whereas walking without the mediation of dogs caused stress in the cardiac patients, dog-mediated walking helped them relax. Cardiac patients also experienced a lower frequency of irregular heart rhythms while walking with dogs than they did while at rest. From these results, we anticipate that the consistent practice of exercise therapy with pets will make it possible to improve the prognosis for chronic myocardial infarction patients. In the future, we would like to increase the reliability of this research by increasing the number of experimental cases."

Of Mr. Motooka's report, Prof. Ohta said, " this type of research is very valuable in Japan because it is so rare here. We might have a self-congratulatory tendency to say 'therefore animals are good.' But I think it's important to do research that focuses not only on the good aspects, but also the undesirable aspects as well. I look forward to future work in this area."

After the presentation, Mr. Motooka received numerous questions, which impressed him with the intensity of the need in this field.

The Unique Tibetan View of Animals Manifested in How They Name Their Animals

Research theme: The Tibetan outlook on animals: a comparison of the naming for domestic dogs and cattle

By Takayoshi Yamaguchi, Prof. Hisao Furukawa

This research project focuses on the ethnic Tibetans who live in China's northwestern Yunnan province. It is a study of the circumstances surrounding the Tibetan practice of domestically breeding dogs and cattle, and the terms used to name them. In the 1970s, anthropological reports included consideration of the individual names given to animals. These reports were based on the idea that the outlook on animals within a given culture is reflected in the system of individual names given to them. Mr. Yamaguchi approaches the subject from this point of view as well, in this case studying the view of animals among the partially agricultural, partially pastoral lifestyle of Tibetans.

"I conducted a questionnaire survey of items such as the individual names of dogs and their meanings and the individual names of milking cattle and their meanings. As a result, I discovered that in many cases, the names of individuals of yak, cow, and interspecies yak-cow hybrid described the outward physical characteristics of the individual animal, and that each expression corresponded to individual characteristics.

"On the other hand, the names for dogs were found to be relatively simple, and the same name could be used for a great many dogs. In addition, these names were very difficult to associate with the outward appearance of the individual dog. Conspicuous were names comprising expressions of personality traits, such as "Jengo," meaning "most vicious dog," which do not directly describe the personality of the individual dog.

"Tibetans, who have the expression 'good dogs bite people,' also name dogs 'Doja,' or 'dragon-like dog,' and 'tilin,' or 'long life.' I think these names are an indication of a perceived desire. In considering the relations between people and the domestic raising of dogs and cattle, it seems that domestic cattle are raised with the objective of optimizing production. The shades of meaning in their names tend toward the increase of material production, and thus they are given extremely utilitarian individual names.

"The names given to dogs, on the other hand, reflect a recognition of the fact that they are companions sharing a common purpose with humans. That is, that they are not the objects of management by humans, but play a role in the management of these other animals."

The handling of dogs by Tibetans, however, is certainly not overflowing with affection. In rural villages in particular, virtually no concern at all is shown to them, and it is said that many households were observed keeping them tied up in their yard for two or three days at a time without being fed. Thus, a wide gulf was observed between the conceptual view of animals visible in the individual names and the actual circumstances of their management.

"Still, I think the fact that this is a gulf sensed by outsiders is very important. Behaviors, which we see as being inconsistent could be based on their consistent view. We can think of this as something that embodies the outlook on animals that Tibetans have."

Prof. Ohta commented, "Until now, whenever I have spoken to students on the outlook people have toward animals, I've always mixed the subject with religion. But this time it was very interesting to hear about the subject in isolation from religion. I found these research results very thought provoking." Mr. Yamaguchi plans to continue research into the Tibetan view of animals with a study of their proverbs involving animals.

Can Dogs Recognize Shapes? Investigating the Cognitive Capacity of Animals

Research theme: Research into the numerical ability of Shiba dogs using discrimination learning: experimental construction of operant conditioning apparatus

By Michiko Saito, Prof. Toshio Tanaka, Dr. Katsuharu Uetake

As part of her technique of cognitive research on experimental animals, Michiko Saito conducted research in which samples were shown to dogs. As far as the cognitive ability of dogs is concerned, it had been thought that their eyesight rated about 0.2 to 0.3, and that they were colorblind. But through further researches, it has been found that they can distinguish among three color panels, and also that distinguish among the colors of a signal apparatus, are capable of recognizing number values up to 5.

As one step in her research into the cognitive capacity of dogs, Ms. Saito took up the issue of showing samples of basic shapes dogs to determine whether they could discriminate among them. A specialized "Skinner box" was prepared with three display windows and response apertures. The device was set to feed automatically when a correct answer was generated, and the apparatus was equipped to operate with a computer and sensor coordinated for operant conditioning.

The shapes (stimuli) used were the circle, square and triangle. Initially, as experimental pattern A, one shape was shown in the center display window. Next, the same shape was shown in either the left or right window. In pattern B, when the same shape was displayed in either the left or right window, a different shape was shown in one of the remaining windows. For pattern C, a 'x-sign' shape was displayed.

These three experimental patterns were conducted on three canine subjects to determine the degree to which they are capable of distinguishing among shapes. The results were that correct responses were attained in 88% of pattern A cases, while only 48.8% of pattern B responses were correct.

"Despite the fact that initial training was repeated sufficiently, it appears that the dogs did not sufficiently learn the procedures for this experimental method, and appeared not to be comparing the contrastive stimuli in the samples.

"Interestingly, when the stimulus was repeated in either the left or right windows, a propensity toward increased correct responses under certain conditions was evident, including a positional propensity to select the circle, triangle and square (listed in order of preference). In a significantly great proportion of instances, the correct response was made when the shape appeared in the left display window, although it cannot be said that the propensity based on shape is significant. It was confirmed that when humans were present during the experiment, a positive influence was exerted as the subject sensed the presence of the person."

Dr. Shoda's comments on this research project included the following: "Methodology is crucial in the raising, training and management of service dogs such as guide dogs, and I think that this is very important research for the organizations that carry out such work" We look forward to additional experiments in the future.

Interactive Remote Control Systems Make It Possible to Monitor Cat Behavior Long-distance

Research theme: A study of relational expansion between humans and companion animals using telecommunications systems

By Ryoko Ueoka

Ryoko Ueoka specializes in multimedia study. Busy with her research, she often finds herself away from home, and it was at just such a time that she happened to become concerned about the daily behavior of the three cats she keeps. This provided the occasion for her research.

Among the pet-related goods popular of late are cameras that enable the owner to monitor their movement, but these allow observation from a fixed point only. They are not very effective for pets that are not confined to the home, but go outside. This prompted Ms. Ueoka to design a system that would enable her to monitor the positions of her cats in real time even from locations outside of the home without obstructing their movement.

In the first phase of the study, she decided to conduct observations from four positions limited to the living room: over the television set, above the sofa, at the cats' feeding area, at their entrance and exit. She set up infrared detection sensors, pressure-sensitive detectors, light sensors and strain-sensitive sensors for the coordinated monitoring of all of these areas. In addition, she fitted each of the three cats with radio transmitter tag and set up a receiver capable of distinguishing between them. Next, she set up a remote-controlled dry-food feeding apparatus fitted with a motor that could be activated by remote control, for a system that could be operated from far away. The system allows the data gathered to be stored on a computer, and also enables the user to monitor the cats' behavior remotely.

"The reason I limited the observation point of the cats to the living room was that I hypothesized that the three basic behaviors of the cats were eating, sleeping and going outside. I reasoned that this would make it possible to monitor all of the daily activities of the cats by noting whether they move past a given point or remain at rest. I also believed that they spent a majority of their time in the living room, since they eat there. But what I found out was that each of the three cats has its own entirely different lifestyle pattern and rhythm, and I was surprised at those individual differences.

"In the future, I would like to continue this research, expanding its range through the use of, for instance, more compact sensors and wireless devices that reduce the stress placed on the cats. Also, I placed the radio transmitter tabs used to distinguish among the individual cats on collars, and this method has failed numerous times because of the fact that they cannot accustom themselves to the devices. In the future, I would like to study whether telecommunications media can be used to strengthen the psychological bond between human and cat through the design of an I.D. detection device that doesnít have to be worn."

Dr. Shoda had the following to say about this research project: "This kind of research methodology, in which engineering techniques are used to strengthen human-animal relationships, has not been seen before in the subjects of this research scholarship program. I anticipate great results from this research in the future."

There were also favorable comments from the presentation audience: "A great many people live alone in collective housing, and in many cases they must leave their cats alone at home when they go out to work. Many people anticipate such a system, which would be enormously useful to them at such times."