Vaika's ultimate goal is extension of healthy and happy life of dogs. Therefore, besides physiological parameters and performance status we are also very much interested in emotional and cognitive condition of our dogs.
Cognitive dysfunction is a neurobehavioral syndrome which has detrimental effect on dogs awareness, memory, ability to learn and emotional well-being. Moreover, even if not manifested in dog's behavior cognitive dysfunction results in changes in the sleep–wake cycle, affecting animals' circadian rhythms and leading to more profound physiological changes. It is strongly associated with aging and develops in one fifth (20%) of elderly dogs.
Several research groups have been working on a set of tests allowing to assess dogs cognition. We have adopted some of those for our study (Rosado et al, 2012). The general approach is the following: dog is let into the room sectioned off into equal-sized squares, where dog's activity is monitored using a ceiling-mounted video camera. Room is either empty, or enriched with novel objects/human. We track dogs' locomotor activity, vocalizations, willingness to explore the room and new attractions.
We will repeat these tests once a year and see if treatment or/and social enrichment affects dogs behavior.
You can watch short videos and see snap shots of our study below as well as on individual dogs pages.
Open Field Test is one of the best known approaches to study "spontaneous behavior". Play-room is left empty. The key measurement taken in this setting is amount of squares, which dog "covers" within the certain period of time (3 minutes in our case). This number indicates dog's exploratory activity. Another important parameter to assess is amount of time which dog spends near the door, or at the corner. According to Rosado and colleagues, young dogs tend to vocalize, jump and spend overall longer times at the door, while senior animals, prefer to lay in the corners.
Curiosity Test: set up is the same as for Open Field test, but three new objects (toys) on the floor: a plastic cone, a kong toy, and a plush toy. The dog's behavior is observed with these objects for 3 minutes. Population of Vaika's dogs were not very well familiar with dog toys in their younger years and therefore selected objects for this population indeed represent "novelty". Some of the tested dogs restricted themselves to only sniffing, while others destroyed plush toys or rolled the Kong toy all over the playroom.
Human interaction test: dog’s behavior in a room with unfamiliar person which does not interact with the dog is observed.
Provided that vast majority of dogs participating in our study have never been treated as pets and therefore did not develop strong bonding with humans, their behavior around people differs from that of regular home raised dogs. However, most of Vaika's dogs feel somewhat more secure around people (even strangers) which is indicated by their postures and overall desire to stay closer to human.
Mirror Test: dog’s behavior is observed in the same Playroom, but instead of toys on the floor, mirror is mounted on one wall. Same as with other tests, we have observed all sorts of behaviors: dome dogs would carefully approach the mirror, look at themselves for a second and retrieve to the corner area, while some would constantly get back to mirror and check it out; few dogs were really happy with their reflection and spend a lot of time wiggling at reflection.
While Ian was never characterized as a shy fellow, in our test he showed typical "corner" behavior: he has spent most of the time in the corner. He has sniffed out the toys though, grabbed the Kong toy and retrieved back to the corner with it. When human was in the room Ian appeared to more relaxed which was indicated by his posture.
One of our dogs just couldn't stop running: neither toys, nor mirrors or strangers could distract him from flying around: