I’m sitting in the San Francisco airport on my way home after a great weekend at the Canine Science Symposium.
This event drew a crowd of people who had as much dog hair on their clothes as I did and who were happy to talk about dogs for as long as I was. The 200 participants, hailing from across the US and Canada, all have great compassion for the dogs in our lives—this is a powerful common denominator uniting a group of people.
Here are a few of the things I learned:
Clive Wynne delivered an alternative analysis of the research papers claiming that canine behavioral tests are not predictive or useful. Wynne’s lesson is that we must pay attention to the statistical analyses in research papers and double check that they are asking the questions that we think they are asking. My take away is that we should keep an open mind about these tests and while they are not perfect, they can still be useful.
Kelsea Brown’s and Monique Udell’s lectures emphasized that when it comes to assessing canine behavior and temperament, context matters. This context includes things like the relationship between the dog and its handler and the position of the handler. While I bet every dog trainer in the room already knew this, there are two significant reasons for providing scientific confirmation for things that many people already know.
- First, some people have a serious bias in favor of scientific over practical knowledge, and if those people include lawmakers and policymakers, it is useful to be able to give them the sort of confirmation that will work for them.
- Second, this research can have an impact on how shelter workers assess dogs. Shelter workers are the unsung heroes of the dog world. I would never ask them to do an additional job unless I was confident that it was necessary. So, further confirmation from researchers about context lets shelter staff and volunteers know that it worth their while to assess dogs in a variety of ways.
I also learned a ton of practical information about nose work training from Nathan Hall. There is too much detail to share here, but lordy, the combination of chemistry, dog noses, and physical techniques was cool!
Aaaand, I got to have a drink with Denise Fenzi, where I learned that I could keep my cool even when I have serious fangirl feelings.
From left to right Clive Wynne, me, and Denise Fenzi. I think I look a bit drunk in this picture, but I assure you I’m not. It’s just that I am really happy!