The Research Triangle Park

Catch up on RTP180: Animal Behavior

By May 26, 2017

When I think of animal behavior, I think of my cat Cosmo pawing at my face and meowing in my ear at 5am every single morning, waiting for me to get up so that I can give her a few treats. Why 5am? I have no idea, but it never fails. Every morning Cosmo comes in and goes on and on and on until I get up. If you have a cat, don’t ever get them started on Temptations treats. You’ll regret it for the rest of your life as it’s true what the commercial says “once you shake ‘em you can’t shake ‘em.” Meaning, once you shake the bag of treats for your little furry friend, they will never forget it. Anyways…

There’s nothing more enjoyable than watching 7 brave souls act like animals in front of 250 strangers. First time guests always get a special shout out from me as we kick off the night’s program. This time, the bright idea of having several first timers act like animals hit me right before we took the stage. (Other activities have included who could hum the theme from Mario brothers the longest, having people sing their favorite Christmas song, etc.). Seven great sports acted like ostriches, gorillas, and seals. God bless them. I hope they come back. (You should go watch the live stream to see them all in action. It’s pretty awesome!) After my shenanigans, I welcomed Dr. Barbara Sherman of NC State College of Veterinary Medicine to the stage as our first presenter.

Dr. Barbara Sherman | NC State College of Veterinary Medicine
First off, Dr. Sherman was a true trooper as we had a few technical difficulties with her slides not loading properly. So, what did she do? She shared her passion with us. Dr. Sherman works with animals that have behavioral issues. Animals can get people evicted or even worse, cause divorce. She focuses a lot of her time on dogs, which have a remarkable ability to understand humans. Dr. Sherman explained that pups know certain pair of shoes means we’re going running, and work shoes means we’re leaving. Her whole goal in doing what she does is to preserve the human and animal bond.

I can absolutely relate to having a dog with a behavioral problem. My wife and I have a rescue dog and she trembles or hides under the bed 50% of the time. It breaks my heart to see her so scared over what we think is seemingly nothing. A spoon drops and hits the floor, and there goes Penny running upstairs to hide.

To watch Dr. Barbara’s complete RTP180 talk, click here.

Dr. Margaret Gruen | Duke Canine Cognition Center
The audience was glued to Dr. Margaret’s talk as she won us over by kicking off with puppies. Who doesn’t love a cute little puppy, right? Dr. Margaret uses cognition to predict success for assistance dogs. These puppies grow up to assist their owners in several ways including seeing eye help, emotional support, help with PTSD, and wheelchair assistance, just to name a few. But, it’s costly. Training a dog to become an assistant dog can cost up to $50,000. The catch is that not all dogs become assistance dogs that start in the program. Some dogs just aren’t made out to be assistance dogs. Therefore, Dr. Margaret has dedicated her research to helping to determine signs of successful dogs early on.

You’ll have to watch her talk HERE to learn how she does it.

Clint Penick | NC State University/NC Museum of Natural Sciences
Poor Clint, he was the brave soul that transitioned from cute puppies to insects. Don’t worry, I didn’t hear a single boo, so we are all good! Clint studies the lives and habits of ants. Where is the mother load of ants in the United States? New York City. 8.3 million people live in New York while 16 billion ants live among them. That means there are 2,000 ants per human living in NYC. Of those 16 billion ants, there are about 40 different species that exist in New York. From there, there are only about six different species that you will find throughout the entire city. Which led Clint to the big question: How are these “urban ants” surviving out there in the concrete jungle? So, Clint and his team studied Carbon 13 levels in the ants. In humans, when we eat a lot of corn (corn syrup, corn oil, etc.) our carbon 13 levels rise. The same is true of ants. Guess what? They found high levels of Carbon 13 in these urban ants, which means the ants are eating our trash. In fact, they eat so much trash that just on Broadway alone, the ants eat the equivalent of 60,000 hot dogs a year! Color me impressed.

Clint’s talk is packed with a lot more fun facts. I encourage you to watch his entire presentation here. 

Molly Stone-Sapir | SPCA of Wake County
There are two ways to make a dog sit. The first, and forceful way is to use a choke chain. The trainer will pull up on the chain reducing the amount of air the dog can take in while pushing down on its behind. Once the dog’s behind hits the floor, the trainer releases the choke chain and the dog’s airway becomes unrestricted. The second way, take a piece of fake bacon (facon) and set it just above the dog’s nose. The trainer then moves the bacon back until the dog’s behind hits the floor. The trainer then gives the dog the bacon and everyone wins. Molly has been practicing force free training for years and guarantees that it’s not only nicer but it’s a faster way of training your animal.

To learn why it’s faster, you’ll have to watch Molly’s RTP180 presentation here.

Calley Gerber | Gerber Animal Law Center 
Our last presenter on Animal Behavior at May’s RTP180 was Calley Gerber. Think Judge Judy for animals. In fact, she’s been asked to bring a few of her cases on the Judge Judy’s show. You wouldn’t think that animals need attorneys, but they often do. Calley shared a story with us about a harmless 5-year-old overweight English Bull Dog who had one incident with a human and was almost put down until she saved the day. Calley was able to represent the dog and its family to prove there was nothing mentally wrong (or aggressive) with the dog. Thanks to Calley, 10 years later he’s still slobbering around relaxing on his owner’s couch.

Watch Calley’s full RTP180 talk here.

As always, thank you all for coming, supporting and enjoying RTP180! Remember, don’t feed your cat Temptation treats and we’ll see you next month for our “Design” topic.