November 2015 Newsletter

 November 2015

What's New

LearnZIMS Teaching Partner
The Animal Behavior Institute is proud to announce that we have recently become a ZIMS Teaching Partner. ZIMS is the state of the art system employed by zoos all over the world. We incorporate the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS) into our courses to ensure that our students learn the world standard in animal records management. The Animal Behavior Institute is one of just twelve institu

tions globally to enjoy this exclusive teaching partnership. You’ll be graduating from ABI with a unique skill set that will set you apart from your competition.
Tuition Increase
The Animal Behavior Institute has strived to maintain affordable tuition since we opened in 2004; tuition has not changed in over ten years. However, due to rising costs, we will be increasing our tuition from $1,110 to $1,185 per course effective February 1, 2016. Courses may be purchased at the current tuition rate anytime prior to February 1, 2016 to be used in subsequent semesters. 

The Cheating Cheetah: How Promiscuity in Cheetahs Leads to Healthier Genetics


They’re called cheetahs for a reason! For humans, cheating on your significant other is not only destructive, but can lead to the spread of undesirable diseases. However, this practice is actually very healthy for cheetahs! Cheetah cubs are much healthier and have a significantly smaller risk for disease when the mother has had several mates. Why is this the case? Let’s back up for a minute.


About 12,000 years ago, a mass extinction eliminated 75% of the world’s large mammal species. This caused an extreme reduction in the cheetah’s genetic diversity, resulting in what is known as a population bottleneck. Sadly, this physical homogeneity leads to poor sperm quality, focal palatine erosion, susceptibility to infectious diseases, and kinked tails. Anything that increases genetic diversity, and helps to overcome this problem, will be beneficial. And one of the best ways to achieve this is by mating with multiple partners.


Studies have shown that female cheetahs are just as promiscuous as male cheetahs, if not more so. This increases the health of their offspring because they give birth to a single litter of cubs fathered by multiple males, meaning that the offspring are more genetically diverse and therefore less likely to all succumb to the same challenge. Genetic variation is essential to evolutionary change. Natural selection occurs in a population when individuals with unfavorable genes die out and individuals with favorable genes reproduce. This allows a species to adapt to environmental change. But without gene variation, the species cannot adapt. This means that if a new pathogen is introduced, rather than susceptible individuals dying out, the entire population may die out. Therefore, genetic variation is a key component of cheetah conservation.


The cheetah’s case is not as hopeless as it may seem – females are able to mate with males from different regions, ensuring that their multiple partners are as distantly related to one another as possible. This practice increases genetic variation in the population. In addition, they rarely mate with the same male twice. This further helps to mix different genes in the offspring. Scientists refer to this as bet-hedging; the cheetahs are not putting all their eggs in one basket, but getting a variety of genetic information so that hopefully at least some of her offspring may be able to survive. The trait of being promiscuous itself has become more prominent through natural selection as the females who are promiscuous tend to pass on their genes much more than females who do not, because their offspring have better odds of survival.


There is disagreement over this, however. Some scientists believe that promiscuity in cheetahs is not a method of promoting genetic diversity, but simply a result of females giving in to harassment. It is easier for them to simply mate with a many different males than to fend off unwanted suitors. Others propose that mating with multiple males is a way for females to prevent infanticide in males. Often, males will try to kill off cubs that are not their own. However, if the cubs have genes from many males, it will be hard for the males to determine whether the cub is his own or not, discouraging him from killing any of the cubs. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that male cheetahs rarely commit infanticide, even though it is common in other big cats, such as lions.


Despite the female cheetah’s efforts, cheetahs share 99% of their genes with other members of their species (more than humans share with any family member except twins). Avoiding inbreeding is nearly impossible. On top of that, cheetahs are also threatened by habitat destruction as well as loss of prey and predation by lions and hyenas. This endangered species is definitely in the hot seat, but there is still a lot we can do to protect them! Don’t miss next month’s article on cheetah conservation!


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Rovers and Robots: Automated Pet Care

Imagine being able to see and talk to your dog from across the world while on vacation. You’re sitting on your bed in a hotel in Paris, praising little Rover who is wagging his tail at you from your kitchen floor at home. Well, not at you, exactly. You are engaging him through a robot that has not only allowed you to play with your dog’s toys, but has also fed him and taken him on a walk every day for the last week, all while you were away. A recent revolution in robotics could mean that this could become reality for pet owners worldwide. Science has created machines that can now take dogs on a walk, play fetch, clean up droppings, feed dogs, and monitor them with a built-in camera.


It all began when researchers at the University of Pennsylvania developed a robot, Willow Garage PR2, which can pick up dog droppings so that humans don’t have to. It was the first step in a chain of events that revolutionized animal care.


George Washington University has taken it one step further. They are teaching the PR2 to take dogs for walks and play fetch with them. After the PR2 learned to play fetch, it was also able to carry objects such as a water bottle or bag of kibble. Programming a robot to take a dog on a walk proved how intelligent dogs really are. The robot wasn’t just dragging the dog along. During a walk, the walker leads the dog even though the dog is in front of them. One researcher said, “It turned into a project about walking a robot.”


In 2014, a pet-sitting robot named Pawly was designed with some similar and some different features to the PR2. Pawly’s main feature is a high definition camera and microphone, which allows owners to see and hear their pets while they are away. It has been described as “the lovechild of a Roomba, a GoPro, and a pet-sitter.” It is built to withstand the rowdiest pets; it is resistant shocks, bites, kicks, and liquids. As an added touch, it has a treat blaster that shoots treats into the air for your dog to catch.


Details and videos about the Pawly


Microsoft has attempted to trump all of these exciting features. One robotics developer, Jordan Correa, created a robot that allows owners to interact with their pets over the Internet. When Correa and his wife both began working full time jobs, they ended up having to leave their dog, Darwin, at home for most of the day. Rather than ignoring the problem or trying to find a part-time pet sitter, Correa began to work on a robot named DarwinBot. A slate PC attached to the top allows Correa to Skype his dog while the machine releases treats on his command, throws a ball, and retrieves the ball using its robotic arm. The machine uses a movable camera to look around and an Xbox Kinect sensor to move while avoiding obstacles. Correa controls his robot with an Xbox 360 controller that allows him to use the various features and drive the robot.


DarwinBot in Action


While DarwinBot will not be available in stores anytime soon, there is the iPet Home Companion, which allows pet owners to control pet toys while viewing their pets on a camera. This also allows more direct interaction between owner and pet, rather than leaving a robot on its own to do the work. In fact, it is already in use in some animal shelters. Some cat rooms have Internet cameras that allow anyone to get a free two minutes to control pet toys and watch cats react to them in real time. This has had huge implications for the shelters, increasing adoption by 16%, web traffic by 52%, and donations and sponsorships by 295%! It also provides the cats with the mental stimulation and exercise they need every day.


Click here to play with shelter cats online through the iPet Companion


The iPet Companion has certainly made a huge difference in the lives of many shelter cats, and in the future, technology like this has the potential to revolutionize the amount of care and attention captive animals receive. While human interaction is certainly preferable to robot interaction, play and stimulation are key in any animal’s life. This technology may be able to provide them with more than they ever would have received otherwise.


For some pet owners, this may seem like a dream come true. Not only can a robot help you with daily chores, it can also take care of your dog while you’re away, eliminating the stress of finding a trustworthy dog-sitter or kennel. However, others doubt the benefits of the robot pet sitters, worrying that they will be inadequate companions or that something will go wrong and their dogs will not receive the care they need. Regardless, this technology is still in the works, and has the potential to create huge changes for pets and their owners.


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Enough Already! Solving Behavioral Problems Without Training


You finally arrive home after a long day at work. You pull into the garage, open the door, and walk into what looks like a war zone. Your dog is barking like crazy, belongings and trash are strewn all over the floor with assorted chew marks, and you are almost knocked down when your dog jumps up on you. What a nightmare!  Whether you’re thinking about getting a dog, you have a new puppy, or have had your dog for ten years, these common problems may be something you’ve seen before.

Fortunately, we’ve explained some potential origins for these bad behaviors and how to handle them. If any of the following complaints sound familiar, we have the solutions you’ve been looking for! While training can address all of these issues, we can often get results faster by simply altering our pet’s environment. Let’s take a look at how environmental management can be used to your advantage.


Problem: My dog is barking all the time! It’s annoying and disruptive to my family and my neighbors.


Solution: Part of this may simply be realigning expectations. Every dog barks and part of the challenge may just be getting our family, neighbors and friends to accept this. Is the barking really excessive? Or does it just ramp up at certain times, like the arrival of guests – making it feel more prominent than it really is? A dog that never barks is like a cat that never meows – it’s part of what makes a dog a dog.


Of course, excessive barking can be a problem. But it may just indicate that there is an underlying issue with your pet. We need to determine why your dog is exhibiting this behavior. The most common reasons for barking are: as a warning or alert, to express playfulness or excitement, to get attention, because of anxiety, because of boredom, or in response to other dogs. Consider the following possible problems and solutions, and note that they are not mutually exclusive.


Underlying source of barking

 Potential solution to problem

Anxiety about your departure or return

Separation anxiety is a topic in and of itself. But you can start by downplaying your coming and going. Don’t give your dog attention right before leaving or coming home and definitely do not get her excited by using a high-pitched tone.

Bored, lonely

Enrichment can be a great tool to deal with boredom and loneliness. Try hiding food or toys around the house. If your dog is crated, provide interesting challenges such as a Kong toy with frozen broth inside  – or fill it with peanut butter to make the extraction a challenge.

Inactive, lack of exercise

Providing your dog with rigorous exercise can help – such as walking or playing catch – this can reduce unwanted barking. Too busy during the day? Consider a doggy day care or hiring a professional dog walker to take Rover out.

As an alert

Is this really a problem? Most owners want an alert, we really need to focus on limiting the barking.


Many people unintentionally encourage their dogs to bark when they are trying to get them to stop. Shouting at them will only make them think you are joining in, and they do not understand the words “shut up.” The best way to get your dog to calm down is for you to remain calm and speak to them in a firm and controlled voice. But take the time to look for patterns and how the dog’s life or environment might be modified to reduce the problem. Barking can be trained – to start or to stop – but with a change in conditions we may not need to.


Problem: My dog chews everything he can get his paws on – and destroys my things!




Solution: The most common reasons for chewing are teething in puppies, curiosity (often in puppies), boredom, excess energy, and anxiety. The best way to prevent destructive chewing is to provide your dog with lots of chew toys and to keep anything you don’t want to be chewed out of the way. When you aren’t home, you can keep your dog confined to an area where he can cause the least destruction. If your dog starts to chew on something you don’t want him to chew, quickly replace the item with a chew toy.


Again, one of the most important things you can do is to make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise. You’ll note that this is a potential solution to many problems!

Problem: My dog jumps up on me and other people whenever I walk in the house. I’m afraid he will knock me down!


Solution: When puppies are first born, they jump up to greet their mothers. This behavior sometimes translates to people later in life. Additionally, some dogs jump up to assert dominance. Many people try to stop this by pushing the dog away or grabbing his paws. However, this often serves as encouragement, as many dogs also jump for attention. Acknowledging them is actually a reward.


The best method is to turn away and ignore him. Making eye contact, speaking, or touching your dog can all encourage him. Instead, reward him with attention when he calms down. We control the environment when we walk into the house (or should be). Changing our actions can produce the change we want in him. And again – vigorous exercise can be helpful, especially if it takes place prior to the visitor’s arrival.



Problem: Ouch! My puppy keeps biting me!


Solution: Of course it is perfectly normal for puppies to bite as they play and explore the world – and each other. However, this often includes their owners. Owners can teach their dogs that this is not acceptable by teaching bite inhibition. This is when puppies start to intentionally not use the full force of the bite, and then stop biting altogether. Teaching this begins with providing a negative reaction when your puppy bites you. If you are playing, stop and ignore him. This will teach him not to bite (or at least not to bite as hard) in the future. It may take time, but he will learn. Smacking your dog’s nose is not a good punishment for biting, as this will often encourage the behavior. In fact, punishment of any kind is not the answer. You can change the environment by simply standing up and walking away.


If instinct is not the reason, your dog might be biting due to fear, defensiveness, protection of property, pain, sickness, dominance assertion, or predatory instinct. Contrary to popular belief, breed does not indicate how likely a dog is to bite or be violent. Owners and breeders can, however, affect the likelihood of biting through training, socialization and breeding practices.


Dogs never do things out of spite or revenge. Instead, there are natural explanations for their behavior that you should try to understand and deal with in constructive ways. You can have an amazing, rewarding relationship with your pet, but understanding is the key. Plus, the more you work with your dog to teach him the behaviors you want, the closer a relationship you will develop with him. Dogs are incredible life companions. Don’t let these simple problems get in the way!

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Danger Ahead: Warning Coloration in Animals


While animals may not have stop signs or police lights, many species create their own warnings using the colors on their bodies. Why do they need these warnings? Poison is a great defense, but it’s of little use if your attacker dies right after mauling or killing you! It pays to advertise – let them know you’re toxic before they lay a finger on your fur, feathers or scales.


Many animals that have venom, spines, stingers, foul scents, or are otherwise nasty, signal this unpalatability to their predators. The international animal sign for danger occurs either in bright colors (often red, orange, or yellow) or contrasting colors (black and white). A well-known example is the lowly skunk; he uses contrasting black and white to warn others that it releases a dangerous odor. Similarly, the monarch butterfly uses bright orange and black colors to warn would be predators that they are in for a serious case of indigestion. Bees have both bright colors (yellow) and contrast, indicating that they are capable of delivering a painful sting.


Poison dart frogs are some of the most beautiful and most lethal examples of warning coloration. These tiny frogs are brightly colored and appear like hidden Easter eggs in the wild. There are over one hundred species of poison dart frogs and their patterns vary from dazzling yellows to stunning blues. But it’s a case of beauty and the beast - they are equipped with powerful poisons that will sicken or kill any predator. Their toxins are well known to the indigenous people of the area. In fact, the name "dart frogs" comes from the use of their toxic secretions on the tips of blow darts used for hunting.


Other animals mimic the shape or color of these species when, in fact, the mimic is not poisonous. This tactic is like bluffing in poker: they act like they’re dangerous, but they really have very little by way of defense. Confusion is what they are banking on. One example is the scarlet kingsnake. It has very similar coloration to the coral snake; both of them having red, yellow, and black stripes. While these indicate that the coral snake is dangerous, the kingsnake is actually harmless but gains some measure of protection from the ruse (PUT IN PICTURE OF BOTH SIDE BY SIDE). You may have heard the rhyme, “Red and yellow kills a fellow, red and black, friend of Jack.” This poem probably won’t win a Pulitzer but it helps us remember the difference :the coral snake has red and yellow stripes next to each other, but the kingsnake has red and black next to each other. The kingsnake is really a sheep in wolf’s clothing!




While it is widely agreed that land animals use this tactic, but there is some debate as to whether it is prevalent in marine ecosystems. Many marine animals are brightly colored but do not have a dangerous defense mechanism. Nudibranch molluscs are the most commonly cited examples of warning coloration in marine ecosystems. However, even their true intentions are controversial. No other animals mimic the colors of this animal or any other brightly colored, dangerous marine animal. Some have argued that warning coloration is not as effective in the water because predators adapt to visual cues more quickly, rendering mimicry nearly useless.


Video on Warning Coloration in Octopi


While some animals might try to hide from predators by blending into their environments, those that have warning coloration use the opposite tactic: standing out to ensure that predators see the danger and give them a wide berth. These animal traffic cones are known to predators after just one encounter. So let this be your warning: if you see an animal with beautiful bright colors, don’t stop for an Instagram – get out of the way!

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