Monday, April 30, 2012

Eavesdropping isn't Always Bad

Fifteen 4th and 5th graders, an emphasis on science, and a week at HAWS = HAWS annual Spring Break Camp.  This year's camp was made possible due to the generosity of an Arrowhead High School's DECA donation which covered all of our expenses and enabled HAWS to offer 4 days of camp free to Hadfield Elementary Boys and Girls Clubs

Last year I blogged about the adventures of the 2011 Spring Break Camp.  This year, as in last year, the kids had an opportunity to observe our veterinary staff in action, spend a lot of time with animals, and put together an experiment.  This year's experiment was based on an actual study on "Social Eavesdropping in the Domestic Dog" (Marshall-Pescini et al. 2011. Social eavesdropping in the domestic dog. Animal Behaviour (2011), doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.02.029).   Julie Hecht, MSc is a researcher of canine cognition and was kind enough to suggest this as a study might interest the kids -- and she was right since the kids really had a good time with it!

Social eavesdropping involves an individual watching interactions between other individuals.  In some cases it can provide information that will benefit someone in a decision making process.  In the social eavesdropping study the dog observes a person begging for food from two different people -- one of whom is generous and hands out food, and the other is selfish and refuses.  The dog is then released to see if he's learned which of the two individuals is more likely to give him food.  

The original study consisted of 100 dogs and found that most dogs went to the generous person after eavesdropping on the interactions between the beggar and the two individuals with food.   Our goal with the kids wasn't to replicate the study and have it pass a scientific peer review, but to teach the kids about how experiments are conducted, and show them that science can be fun.  For our purpose we only used eight dogs, and the goal was to find out if age made a difference in being able to socially eavesdrop. 

The kids really enjoyed the experiment and I was very proud of how much effort they put into it.  And while good experiments only have one variable, we had to work with the dogs that were available and there ended up being two.  The dogs two years and younger were shelter dogs, and the dogs three years of age and older were staff owned dogs.

I didn't think the kids would notice that discrepancy, and was initially dismayed when one of the girls pointed out that this could be a factor in why the older dogs were better at social eavesdropping than the younger dogs -- that having owners could have made a difference.  But when I thought about it a little longer it made me proud that at least one of the kids took in the information about keeping all the aspects of an experiment constant except for one variable, and that she was perceptive enough to notice we hadn't done that. 

Here's video of the experiment with the kids talking about it. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Puppy Movie Night

She was enormous by the time she came to HAWS -- ready to give birth any day. Champagne ended up having 15 puppies in her foster home, an extremely large number of puppies for any dog to have to take care of! You can read about Champagne and her puppies on her blog.

A few weeks ago HAWS behavior manager Claudeen McAuliffe, Ph.D. mentioned that she really needed help with socializing the puppies to kids, and since I work with a ton of kids she was hoping I could help. And so we decided to host a night where kids could come to HAWS and socialize the puppies, socialize with each other, and have fun.

Our first "Puppy Movie Night" was last Friday evening. Forty-nine kids between the ages of 6 and 14 years of age came to play with puppies, eat pizza, watch a movie while munching on popcorn, and play with puppies again. By the end of it the puppies were tired, and the kids told me what a wonderful evening they had. As a matter of fact, many became very excited when I mentioned that we may have a "Kitten Movie Night" in the future.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Bucky Buckerman

The other day I was showing my Lad Lake students a PowerPoint on animal emotions and I started out talking about humane emotions and facial expressions. I showed the Dr. Paul Ekman photos depicting universal facial expressins for different emotons.

As I started to move on to talk about animal emotions one of the boys raised his hand and with a big smile asked; "Can we call the one on the bottom in the middle 'Bucky Buckerman'?"

I attempted to use his inappropriate attempt at humor to instill some empathy. "That's not very nice to make fun of his appearance," I said. "He can't help how he looks."

"Yes he can," the boy replied, "he can get braces."

"Maybe he can't afford braces, or maybe there's another reason he can't get them," I said.

At that point one of the other boys asked when these photos were taken, and I said I thought maybe the late 60s or early 70s. "Oh, no. You're right," he said. "Back then they couldn't have afforded it."

I'm not sure if they got the message I was trying to send, but I was amused.