Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Dog Breeding, Ballet and the Drift to Extremes

aussiegall / Foter / CC BY
Recently I have been thinking about the role of breed groups devoted to the preservation and improvement of pedigree dogs. I think my essential problem is with the idea that preservation and improvement are contradictory goal. And improvement general related to what is better my modren and largely aesthetic standards.

As such, I was very interested to read Daprati, Iosa & Haggard's (2009) paper "A dance to the music of time" (full text here). In this paper they essentially trace the ballet positions performed by the Royal Ballet of a sixty year period. You may wonder what the contection is, but hang in there and I will explain.

As the authors note: "Classical ballet is traditional and conservative: dancers today use the same positions that were codified in 1760" (pg. e5023). Likewise, pedigree show standards are written descriptions of how a dog should look, intended to be conservatively adhered to across time.

When photographs and video of the same ballet were analyzed it was shown that not only have the positions changed, they have changed in a consistent way cross time--with positions becoming more extreme. Over time legs have become more elevated, hips turned out more and lifts higher. And even to the untrained eyes these changes are easy to see, with positions that once involved the leg raised are 130 degree in the 50s now being lifted almost vertically into the air.

These more extreme position were found to be more appealing even to naive viewers, and they requires fitter and more expert dancers, as such they can be seen as "improved". At the same time they are a distortion of the original tradition, and much more demanding--and potentially damaging--for the dancer who is working at the very limits of their bio-mechanical abilities.

I would argue that the improvement of dog breeds may sometimes share similar qualities. It will tend to select for more extreme positions, sizes, colors and coats--to meet our aesthetic tastes and demonstrated the ability of the breeder. But doing so must distort the tradition conformation of the breed, and potential also its behavior and temperment--sometimes placing a strain on the health of animal near the limits of their phylogentic range.

I think the question needs to be whether the goal is to preserve, or to distort--and are the distortions deemed desireable by the show ring or the market place also desireable for the dog? Because as the audience we must come to realise that an aesthetic that destroys that which it beautifies is a perversion of the art, or of the breed.

Daprati, E., Iosa, M., & Haggard, P. (2009). A Dance to the Music of Time: Aesthetically-Relevant Changes in Body Posture in Performing Art PLoS ONE, 4 (3) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005023

See also:
Ballet postures have become more extreme over time

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Official "Pets and People" Press Release

‘Pets and People’ book series highlights impact of animal companionship on human health

West Lafayette, Ind. – The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) are collaborating with Purdue University Press to make essential health information freely available online.

Every day researchers gain new insights into the dynamic relationship between people and animals, discovering, for example, how dog ownership improves heart health or how interaction with guinea pigs may help socialize autistic children. However, up-to-date summaries of this evidence are difficult to access for the wide range of health professionals who could apply it to improve clinical practice, such as veterinarians, nurses, social workers, and therapists.

This is the challenge that a new book series, “Pets and People,” will engage with, providing syntheses of the latest research and examples of best practice in the field. Topics and contributors will be selected by the AVMA’s Steering Committee on Human-Animal Interactions, which will also be responsible for managing the review and selection process.

“There is a thirst for knowledge about how our daily interactions with companion animals impact health, but a lot of misinformation exists,” said Dr. Emily Paterson-Kane, animal welfare scientist in the AVMA’s Animal Welfare Division. “Authoritative research is too often hidden in learned journals spread across many different disciplines, and most people don’t have access. This new series will bring together the latest science with great examples of applications in the field and make these overviews openly accessible to all.”

Thanks to an innovative publication process, sections will be made available online through the “Pets and People” series website as they are finished. This immediate availability, free-of-charge to all readers, is made possible by the HABRI Foundation, which is subsidizing the production costs of the series as part of its commitment to stimulating innovation in the field.

“We know that the companionship of an animal is often good for us, and this book series will tell us why,” said HABRI President Bob Vetere. “These volumes will provide an essential guide to the tens of thousands of information resources now catalogued by HABRI Central, the community’s online information hub.”

When all sections are completed, final books will be published by Purdue University Press in affordable print and e-book formats. Contributions to the first volumes will start to appear online in 2014 and will focus on cardiovascular health, healthy ageing, and depression and anxiety, three areas of intense research activity.

Dr. Alan Beck, professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and principal investigator on the HABRI Central project, is excited by the new partnership;

“The evidence that pets may improve health is strong enough to justify implementation of carefully designed and monitored pet placement programs and for basic research on the nature of the human-animal bond,” he said. “HABRI Central is a way to foster the collaboration necessary to address this diverse and growing area of study, and the expansion of the publishing component of the project through this new book series promises to substantially extend the impact of research in this area.”

About the American Veterinary Medical Association
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), established in 1863, is the largest veterinary medical organization in the world.  As a not-for-profit association established to advance the science and art of veterinary medicine, the AVMA is the recognized national voice for the veterinary profession. The association’s more than 84,000 members comprise approximately 80 percent of U.S. veterinarians who are involved in a myriad of areas of veterinary medical practice including private, corporate, academic, industrial, governmental, nonprofit, military and public health services.

About the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative
HABRI is a broad coalition of companies, organizations, entities and individuals whose mission is to achieve formal, widespread scientific recognition that validates and supports the positive roles of pets and animals in the integrated health of families and communities, leading to informed decisions in human health. It was founded by The American Pet Product Association, Petco Animal Supplies Inc., and Zoetis (formerly the animal health business of Pfizer).

About Purdue University Press
Purdue University Press publishes scholarly books, journals, and other digital products in veterinary studies, technology, public policy, science engineering and select fields in the humanities and social sciences. It is a department of Purdue University Libraries and is dedicated to advancing the land-grant university mission by maximizing access to authoritative information in the fields it serves.

AVMA: Sharon Curtis Granskog, 847-285-6619,
HABRI: Brooke Gersich, 775-322-4022,
Purdue University: Jim Bush, 765-494-2077,

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pets and People

I am pleased to announced that I will be acting as series editor for a new books series produced as a collaborative project by the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and Purdue University Press

This book series will address the effects of animals on human health, with each book focusing on a specific human health issue.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Dogs and Strange Music

Photo credit: Mary Lee Hahn / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
It is always interesting to see how a phone conversation is transformed into an article.  Normally you end up being quoted in snippets, often saying something you know you never said. In the case of the USA Today article "Hospital helps kids through Healing Paws program" I think I said most of those things. Or at least the gist of it was what I said, even if the words are somewhat rearranged.

I would clarify that I did not say "When a trained therapy dog visits, it's like getting a strange person to perform music." I made an analogy between being visited by a dog you know and like versus a dog you don't know--and the benefits of listening to music you know and like versus new, unfamiliar music. Both can be very beneficial but they tend to cause very different feelings.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Scurrying

Rats always get such bad press. And the idea of rats surging out of the London sewers to take down humanity is.... unpleasant.

But surely they could have come up with a better name than [dum, dum, DUM!]: The Scurrying.

Scurry, according to various definitions means to move in a fluttering or nervous manner, undignified, reflecting fear or an urge to hide. 

When bloody jagged-toothed doom comes for people is may charge, or leap or even  rush. But I don't think it will scuttle, scamper, frollick....

....or scurry.


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