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If you missed SPARCS 2014 here are a few highlights for the doglover

Does it make you a dog dork if you want to spend your money attending a conference promoting applied research in canine science, when you are not a behaviorist, dog trainer, or even a Ph.D. student? I'm only an animal lover, and a really huge dog lover. My nightstand typically holds nonfiction books on animal psychology, dog behavior that I enjoy reading for fun and because I'm incredibly curious.

I take advantage of the San Francisco Public Library and its extensive lending system that allows me to get academic textbooks and various white papers from notables like James Serpell, Konrad Lorenz and more. Again, for fun. I mix those tomes with science fiction and spy novels. Maybe it's my love of a good mystery that has this layperson interested in understanding dog behavior and ethology? What about you?

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This past weekend in Rhode Island, SPARCS 2014 was held. It's a three day conference that had very smart people speak about Aggression & Conflict, Personality & Temperament, and Science in Training. Much, if not all, of the presentations were shared for free online which is how I managed to capture some of it. Don't you love the internet? The time difference is what threw me off.

Following @CanineScience  As I said, I am not in the canine academic world but the bits I saw streaming were amazing. Presenters were entertaining, passionate and knowledgeable. Funny and serious at the same time. Anyone interested in understanding more about the animal world could satisfy themselves without flying to the East Coast or spending hundreds of dollars in attendance fees. However, now that I know what they present on, I really want to go next year!!

Here are a few highlights:

James Serpell

Patricia McConnell, PhD, CAAB spoke about translating conflct-related visual signals. "A picture is worth a thousand words, and dogs “paint” pictures for us all the time through their movements and expressions. This interactive presentation will focus on video and audio recordings that can fine-tune our ability to evaluate what we are seeing and hearing. We’ll watch and listen as dogs interact with one another in situations related to conflict or agonistic behavior. No matter how skilled we are at “reading” dogs, we all can improve our ability to translate from dog to human. We can also take this opportunity to question our beliefs and assumptions about what specific actions actually mean—how much of them are based on good, solid science, and how much is based on a good guess? We’ll talk about this and more, while watching and listening to dogs communicating in their native language, while we “second language learners” try to keep up."

James Serpell spoke on individual and breed differences, but if you missed his presentation, you could read about genetic and breed differences in his book: DOMESTIC DOG, ITS EVOLUTION, BEHAVIOR AND INTERACTIONS WITH PEOPLE. Scientific and scholarly information on the origins and evolution of canine behavior from international experts will give you insights into the behavior of the domestic dog. Discusses genetic and breed differences in behavior. Bibliographies follow each chapter for the serious student to do further reading. Fascinating! Important!

Saturday @SamGoslingPsych spoke gave an Overview of Research on Temperament and Personality in dogs. You can find more about the Animal Personality Institute promoting theoretical & applied work on animal personality.

THE NEUROSCIENCE, ETHOLOGY AND SEMIOTICS OF SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR: GET YOUR ETHOGRAMS AND SEMIOGRAMS READY! – Simon Gadbois, PhD covered that topic as well as Applied Canine Olfactory Processing: What trainers need to know beyond learning theory. You can connect with @GadboisSimon and his research group at @Dalnews or on facebook

I'm bummed but I missed WHY DO BREEDS OF DOGS BEHAVE DIFFERENTLY – Ray Coppinger, PhD. Doesn't this material sound interesting for a lot of us? Our friends at SF Puppy Prep speak highly of Dr. Coppinger. From the conference program:

My life has been involved with working dogs. When we note that there are three hundred plus breeds of dogs in the world we often think of them performing some task. And some of us think that a specific breed can perform that task better than any other breed and or species. For example modern racing sled dogs are the fastest running animal in the world for marathon distances. If I wanted to herd sheep I’d get a border collie and if I wanted a dog to protect sheep I’d get myself a livestock guarding dog. Why am I such a breed chauvinist for the specific relationship I want with a dog? Simply, breeds behave differently and we should discuss why that is.

I did catch much of Clive Wynne's portion DOES THE NAME PAVLOV RING A BELL? on Sunday afternoon. He gave a very entertaining presentation. A big takeaway for me was the idea that beyond "a tired dog is a happy dog" is that a calm dog is one who'll be more likely adopted. If we bring people into shelters to read for 15 minutes to a dog and create a calm dog, the chances of that dog getting adopted are much greater than if that dog was just tired. Does that make sense to you? To me it was a "light bulb" moment. You can make a dog tired so they "look calm" in the shelter, but the conditioning and interaction from a person reading, a passive time of engagement, with a dog makes sense that it would have a positive long term influence on the dog's behavior.

As you can guess, I enjoyed everything I caught from this conference and am seriously contemplating getting a ticket for next year.

More Reading and Information

Here is the three day SPARCS Initiative 2014 program

Here are the topics for each day with the learning goals from each speaker's presentation!

Dog Spies writes Is Dog Training Scientific

The Effects of Canine Personality and Joint Activities on the Dog-Owner Relationship

SPARCS 2014 Conference Livestream

P.S. I'm currently reading Animals and Why They Matter by Mary Midgley, and after this conference, my queue is now full for the summer!

So I need to ask, did you attend this conference in person, online? What do you think about their speaker line up? Were you taking notes too? What did you learn? 


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