SPARCS 2015 International Conference on Dog Behavior

Join us this June with the SPARCS 3rd Annual International Conference on Dog Behavior! Mark your calendars for another spectacular worldwide event!

  • Where Phoenix, Arizona
  • When June 19th - June 21st

Become a Gold Member to attend in person!

About The Conference

The SPARCS Conference is a three-day scientific conference that blends the format of a traditional academic conference with a format that is welcoming, friendly, and engaging for all audiences.  Each day has a main theme whereupon our speakers give multiple talks about topics within the themed framework for that day, allowing for more discussion about the complexity, nuances, and controversies that exist amongst scientists.  Each day then concludes with a panel discussion to allow our speakers the opportunity to answer questions, discuss ideas, and debate controversies that arose during the day. Our audience is incredibly diverse, comprising dog enthusiasts, behavior consultants, veterinarians, researchers, and students.

To maximize our impact, SPARCS broadcasts the annual conference live and 100% free of cost.  Thousands of individuals from all over the world tune in to watch and interact with our speakers through Twitter in real-time! Join us either in-person or online for the science-event of the year!

Download Our Brochure!

About the Venue

The Phoenix Convention Center is an award-winning facility in the heart of Downtown Phoenix.Conveniently located within walking distance of major hotels, shopping, sports and entertainment venues, the center has its own dedicated stop on the METRO Light Rail Line. Sky Harbor International Airport is located just 15 minutes away. This beautiful facility with a design theme that evokes Arizona’s colorful landscape will be a fantastic location for SPARCS 2015. Theater Seating Capacity: 200

SPARCS 2015 Conference Hotel

Special Room rate for SPARCS attendees - $109.00 plus tax - at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix. Set within the center of this cosmopolitan city, Hyatt Regency Phoenix is an urban oasis of comfort and calm. From spacious suites to delicious dining and beyond, we invite you to immerse yourself in the very essence of downtown Phoenix.

Click HERE to book your room!

Speaker & Bios

  • Bonne Beerda, PhD Dr. Bonne Beerda is a behavioral ecologist who completed his PhD at Utrecht University in 1997 on stress and well-being in dogs. Since then, he has been involved in animal behaviour and welfare research. His publications range from functional genomics to various animal welfare issues, like in relation to high yield in dairy cows or keeping conditions of pet rabbits. Bonne contributes in this area of research by being actively involved in the journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science, currently as review editor... (read more!)
  • Heather Bimonte-Nelson, PhD Dr. Bimonte-Nelson did her doctoral research with Dr. Victor Denenberg at the University of Connecticut. Her dissertation focused on sex differences in brain structure and function, and how ovarian hormones affect the expression of sex differences. In 2005, she became principal investigator of The Neuroscience of Memory and Aging Laboratory at ASU, where she is currently Associate Professor of Psychology and Division Chair of Behavioral Neuroscience in the Psychology Department... (read more!)
  • Gene Brewer, PhD Dr. Brewer is an Honors Professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and an Assistant Professor in the area of Cognitive Science in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University. He received dual degrees in Psychology and Statistics at the University of Georgia in 2005 and his Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Georgia in 2010. With 60 publications, Dr. Brewer’s lab has focused on the basic behavioral and physiological mechanisms that support cognitive control.... (read more!)
  • Mia Cobb, BSc(hons) Mia Cobb is a canine researcher and science communicator. She holds a BSc(Hons) with a focus on animal behaviour and ecology from Monash University and is nearing completion of a PhD researching the welfare, enrichment and work performance of kennelled working dogs... (read more!)
  • Cheryl Conrad, PhD Dr. Conrad is the Associate Dean for Research in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a full Professor in the area of Behavioral Neuroscience in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University. She received dual undergraduate B.S. degrees in Biology and Chemistry at the University of California, Irvine in 1986 and her Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 1994... (read more!)
  • Ekrem Dere, PhD Ekrem Dere studied Psychology at the University of Düsseldorf and obtained his diploma in 1999. In 2003 he was awarded with a PhD degree from the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences of the University of Düsseldorf. He is a behavioral neuroscientist with a research focus on the neurobiology and neuropathology of episodic memory and the behavioral functions of gap junctions in the brain... (read more!)
  • Márta Gácsi, PhD Márta Gácsi received her PhD in ethology at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, focusing on the assessment methods and development of dog-owner attachment bond. She is currently senior researcher at the Comparative Ethology Research Group of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and investigates dog-human interactions in Prof Ádám Miklósi’s group (Family Dog Project, Hungary)... (read more!)
  • James Ha, PhD, CAAB Dr. Jim Ha's academic and practical training is in the social behavior of birds and mammals, with a special focus on highly social species like domestic dogs, crows and jays, primates, and killer whales. He received his Ph.D. in Zoology, with a specialization in animal behavior, from Colorado State University in 1989, and is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, the highest level of certification in dog behavior that is available.... (read more!)
  • Julie Hecht, MSc Julie Hecht, MSc, is a canine researcher and science writer. She manages Alexandra Horowitz’s Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College and has investigated dog olfaction, inter-species play, theory of mind, and the infamous “guilty look.” Julie is an Animal Behavior and Comparative Psychology PhD student at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, working with Diana Reiss... (read more!)
  • Michael Hennessey, PhD Dr. Hennessy is Professor of Psychology at Wright State University. He received his PhD in developmental psychology at Northern Illinois University and then served as a postdoctoral fellow and research associate at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Hennessy began his independent research career at SRI International as a research psychologist before moving to Wright State in 1984.... (read more!)
  • Hal Herzog, PhD Dr. Hal Herzog is the author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard To Think Straight About Animals. He is an internationally recognized researcher in the new science of human-animal relationships. The author of over one-hundred peer-reviewed papers, his research has been widely covered by numerous media organizations as well as many national and international newspapers and magazines... (read more!)
  • Peter Killeen, PhD Peter Killeen received his doctorate in 1969 under the guidance of Howard Rachlin, Richard Herrnstein, and BF Skinner. His first and only position was at the Psychology Department (Previously-Known-As Fort Skinner in the Desert!) at Arizona State University. His research has involved choice behavior, schedule-induced responses such as polydipsia, models of reinforcement schedules, timing, and delay discounting... (read more!)
  • Jeremy Koster, PhD Jeremy Koster is a human behavioral ecologist who earned his PhD at Penn State in Anthropology in 2007. Now an Associate Professor at the University of Cincinnati, Jeremy uses ethnographic data to deduce and test hypotheses about the evolution of anatomically modern humans... (read more!)
  • Kathryn Lord, PhD Kathryn Lord received her Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. Her dissertation focused on the evolution and development of dog and wolf behavior. This work involved thousands of hours of observation and hand rearing both dogs and wolves. She is interested in how evolutionary development can help inform our management of domestic and wild species.... (read more!)
  • Miles Orchinik, PhD Dr. Orchinik is a neurobiologist in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University who investigates the effects of stress hormones on brain function. He received his undergraduate degree in history before discovering his passion for understanding the mechanisms through which hormones influence behavior. He received his PhD in behavioral neuroendocrinology in the lab of Frank Moore at Oregon State University where combined field work with lab science... (read more!)
  • Stephen Zawistowski, PhD, CAAB Stephen L. Zawistowski spent 26 years as a senior executive at the ASPCA. He is a certified applied animal behaviorist and chaired the Animal Behavior Society’s Board of Professional Certification from 1998-2007, is founding co-editor of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, and is an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, Hunter College and Canisius College.... (read more!)

Conference Schedule

Friday, June 19th Learning and Memory
Saturday, June 20th Dogs Around the World
Sunday, June 21st Stress: Physiology, Cognition, and Behavior
9:00 - 10:00am

The Laws of Connection

Peter Killeen, PhD

Training an animal, human or other, is a matter of arranging connections among events—stimuli and responses—with outcomes—reinforcers or punishers, and doing it in a way that those connections lead to an enduring modification of behavior.  In the academic literature the process is called association or conditioning, and elsewhere learning. It involves both the conditions of training and the conditions of motivation that will bring these connections alive. Here I review the various theories of connection that have been offered over time, starting with Hume’s laws of causal attribution, and running through Pavlov’s, Thorndike’s, Skinner’s, Hebb’s, Rescorla-Wagner’s. Premack’s and Timberlake’s versions of the laws. Rather than overwhelm with crusty distinctions, we shall see that all of these perspectives were, like those of the blind men and the elephant, focused on different but integral parts of the same beast. By the end we hope you can take away a unified perspective that will help you to not only see the elephant as a whole, but to be better able to engage it in productive labor, enhancing the quality of your interactions with other animals in your world.

Learning Objectives:

  • Be able to outline in a few sentences the Unified Theory of Connections, and show the role that some of the historic laws play in it.
  • Show the complementarity between Pavlovian and Skinnerian laws in terms of self-knowledge and world-knowledge.
  • Show how the Unified Theory can be deployed in some of your own interactions with other animals.
  • Situate the ability to learn within an Aristotelian framework, suggesting the four causes that govern it (its triggers, its machinery, its function and its formal description).
10:15 - 11:15am

Back to the Future: Mental Time Travel in Animals

Ekrem Dere, PhD

The conscious recollection of personal experiences and events in terms of their details (what happened to me?), their spatial (where did it happen to me?) and temporal context (when did it happen to me?) has been termed “episodic memory.” Humans not only recollect these past experiences, but are also able to elaborate about their perceptions, cognitions and emotions they had at the time. It was long held that such a ‘mental time travel’ is unique to humans, believing that animals have no awareness of their own past and are ‘stuck in time’, only aware of the immediate present with no idea of their past or possible future. In the past two decades, behavioral neuroscientists and comparative psychologists have repeatedly questioned this assumption with compelling evidence suggesting that animals might indeed have the capacity to recollect unique personal experiences. Some authors have moved even further to speculate about the possibility that animals might also be able to think about their own future and could possibly even plan for it. In this presentation, I will review the evidence for the existence of ‘mental time travel’ in different animal species including non-human primates, dogs, rodents and birds and will discuss methodological issues that are associated with addressing this question.

 Learning Objectives:

  • Are animals aware of their own past or can they imagine their future?
  • How can we measure such ‘mental time travel’ in animals?
  • What is the consequence of the cohabitation of dogs with humans for higher cognitive functions of these domestic animals?  


11:30 - 12:30pm

How Do We Know More Tomorrow Than We Do Today? The Behavioral Neuroscience of Learning and Remembering

Heather Bimonte-Nelson, PhD

As we live our lives and time progresses, we grow, we change, we adapt, and we learn; we know more from one day to the next. How do we know more tomorrow than we do today? The ability to learn and the ability to remember bestows upon us this glorious lifetime; it gives us a past, and lets us know who we are. Learning and memory allow us to adapt and to update our world: strangers become familiar friends, new facts are learned, and skills, such as cooking, playing musical instruments, and effectively using new apps on our iPhone, are acquired. The science of how learning and remembering happens in the brain has a rich history, and while we have made considerable discoveries thus far, there is still much left to discover. Our understanding of how learning and remembering happens has come from evaluations in many species including invertebrates, rodents, dogs, and humans. Research in rats and mice has been especially prolific, and this work has pioneered dramatic discoveries unlocking some of the mysteries of learning and memory. This talk will take you down memory lane where we will explore some of the magnificent, complex, and exciting science of learning and remembering. A dynamic and multidimensional perspective will be provided with a focus on studies using rodents and mazes. Discussion will include how these maze studies can provide a window into the mind, and the importance of excellence in the design of experiments and properly controlled behavior procedures in driving scientific knowledge forward. A biological framework will envelope the talk, and complexities such as how hormones and aging impact learning and memory will be explored. The idea that the ability to learn and remember is important in living a rich and fulfilling life will be entertained. In fact, our ability to learn and remember gives us our sense of self. Indeed, isn’t it true that our memories make us who we are?

Learning Objectives:

  • Be able to discuss the operational definitions of learning and memory, including the divisions of memory types.
  • Understand the framework of the miraculous biological process of learning and memory functioning, the less than perfect nature of these processes, and some situations where they can go awry.
  • Identify brain areas responsible for making memories.
  • Note how learning and memory allow us to live a fulfilling a life, and how these processes allow us our sense of self.
2:00 - 3:00pm

The Potentials of Social Learning in Dog-human Interactions

Márta Gácsi, PhD

The changing role of dogs in most societies has been paralleled by a process in the academic field; we started raising questions, which could not have been raised a decade ago, for example, about the empathy, guilty behavior, personality, or emotion recognition in dogs. But when it comes to training, we seem to borrow the good old learning theory from psychologists and apply the rat models to our pets. While we keep in mind that the behaviorist models do not completely mirror the complex learning processes of our dogs, this can be a plausible approach. However, considering the accumulating scientific data on dogs’ sensitivity to human social cues and their interspecific social learning skills (learning socially from humans), we should not forget about a natural kind of information acquiring in social species; learning from the behavior of the group members without direct reward.

Learning Objectives:

  • Discuss interspecific social learning of dogs from an ethological perspective.
  • Demonstrate some examples from experimental research.
  • Compare learning situations where conditioning/social learning and food/social reward can be efficiently used
3:15 - 4:15pm

Differential Psychology: For the Dogs?

Gene Brewer, PhD

Psychological research studies can be broadly classified into either experimental or differential based upon the approach used by researchers. Experimental research aims to randomly assign participants to conditions that only differ in tightly controlled variations that may or may not influence behavior. Differential research aims to measure individual differences in participants’ behavior. Traditionally, the experimental approach to psychological research has been favored because causal statements about behavior can be inferred from research outcomes. Differential approaches suffer from the classic “correlation does not imply causation” argument. In this talk I will discuss recent developments in differential psychology, the standard individual differences approach, examples from canine research, and I will provide suggestions for future research that can assess aptitude-by-treatment interactions.

Learning Objectives:

  • To learn about aptitude-by-treatment interactions based on presented examples.
  • To learn about the similarities and differences between experimental and differential psychology.
  • To consider whether a differential approach can be taken by canine researchers to search for aptitude-by-treatment interactions in dogs.  
4:30 - 5:00pm

Best Emerging Researcher

5:00 - 5:15pm

Remote Interview with Special Guest

Adam Miklosi, PhD

Interview with Mia Cobb and Julie Hecht via Google Hangouts

5:30 - 6:45pm

Panel Discussion

Moderated by Mia Cobb and Julie Hecht

All our invited speakers will sit down to discuss questions from the audience and from viewers around the world who can submit questions via Twitter.

9:00 - 10:00am

Hunting With Dogs in the Tropical Rain Forest

Jeremy Koster, PhD

Dogs are used for subsistence hunting in societies throughout the tropics. My anthropological research in the Nicaraguan rain forest shows that indigenous hunters use their dogs to capture a variety of terrestrial mammals, including ungulates and fossorial rodents. The primary advantage of using dogs is the increased encounter rates with several noteworthy prey species. On average, hunters who use dogs and machetes harvest as much game as hunters with firearms. Dogs vary widely in their hunting ability, and evidence suggests that older dogs and male dogs help to harvest more game than peers. The mortality rates of dogs are very high, and few dogs reach eight years old. For adult dogs, the leading causes of mortality include attacks by jaguars, snakebites, and a variety of illnesses. There is no managed breeding of dogs, which means that this setting provides compelling opportunities to study unconscious artificial selection for traits such as hunting ability.
Learning Objectives:
  • Compared to other hunting methods that involve projectile weapons, how might the advantages of hunting dogs vary across different environments?
  • Why might wildlife conservationists promote the use of hunting dogs relative to alternatives such as firearms?
  • In what kinds of societies would hunting dogs be particularly valued, and how does this inform our understanding of the domestication of dogs?
10:15 - 11:15am

When a Stray is Not Astray

Kathryn Lord, PhD

The image of a dog wandering the street or foraging through a garbage dump leaves many people feeling angry or sad.  It is thought that the problem would be solved If only people were more responsible with their pets, or if only we could find these dogs homes.  We immediately assume that these free-living dogs, surviving without the direct care of humans, are pets that have strayed into their current predicament.  This assumption has been given some validation by scientists who have found that dogs do not show the same complex parental care as other members of the genus Canis, including wolves, coyotes, and jackals. Dogs also have higher pup mortality rates than other wild members of the genus. These differences have lead some scientists to conclude that dog reproductive behavior has degenerated from the behavior seen in wild members of the genus Canis as a result of dogs’ reliance on human care for survival.  Therefore, many believe that without emigration from the pet population dogs could not reproduce effectively enough to sustain a free-living population.  In this talk I will discuss how a closer investigation of these differences in reproductive behavior suggest that dogs have not lost their previously adaptive behaviors, but have instead evolved different reproductive behaviors that are adapted to help them survive in the very environment free-living dogs inhabit.  I will also discuss the implications these findings have on the management of free-living dogs.

Learning goals:

  • To recognize their own assumptions about free-living dogs
  • To understand the basic reproductive strategy of dogs
  • To understand how this differs from other members of the genus Canis
  • To understand what this difference in reproductive strategy means in terms of managing dog populations
11:30 - 12:30pm

Dog pound to Rehabilitation Center: A Three Hundred Year Journey

Steve Zawistowski, PhD, CAAB

The first animal shelters in colonial America were impounds for stray livestock. Eventually, the pound masters took in dogs and the results were frequently tragic. Over time, as livestock became less common in populated areas dogs (and cats) would be the primary focus of the pounds. A burgeoning dog population resulted in massive numbers of strays that were captured, housed and most often euthanized under less than ideal circumstances. The past 50 years have seen substantial progress in providing better care for dogs in shelters including developments in shelter medicine and behavior programs. Research in canine science is being used to make further improvements in how we care for dogs in the shelter environment.

Learning Objectives:

  • Introduction to the origins and early history of animal shelters
  • The role that developments in animal science, veterinary medicine and behavior have played in the evolution of animal shelters.
  • Evaluating the role that applied canine science can make in continued improvement of care for dogs in animal shelters.
2:00 - 3:00pm

What the New Science of Human-Animal Interactions Reveals About Our Relationships With Dogs

Hal Herzog, PhD

Our lives have been intertwined with companion animals for many thousands of years. However, researchers have only recently began to systematically study they dynamics of our relationships with pets. Focusing on dogs, I will examine some current topics in anthrozoology, the new science of human-animal interactions. How good are pets for our health? Are there really personality differences between “dog people” and “cat people?” Are humans hard-wired to love animals? Why can dogs be loved in some cultures and loathed (or eaten) in other cultures? What factors are responsible for the increasing tendency think of pets as people? What causes sudden fads for purebred dog breeds? Do “better” dog breeds become more popular? I will show what the answers to these and other questions reveal about the human side of the human-animal relationship.

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the state of current research on the impact of pets on human health and psychological well-being.
  • Understand the types of questions studied by anthrozoologists and the methods they use to answer them.
  • Be able to discuss the relative roles of biology and culture in the evolution of the human-dog relationship.
3:15 - 4:15pm

Show Me the Money: Future Funding for Canine Science

James Ha, PhD, CAAB

I will present a purposefully-provocative talk, outlining my view of the past and future of canine scientific research. I will suggest that canine science has been largely ignored, especially by major funding agencies, and speculate on the reasons for this. I will (very briefly) review the state of canine science in the broadest sense, expecting to be (politely) disagreed with, and corrected. From this review, I will identify the gaps (in my opinion) in our knowledge of canine science, and finally, I will propose, again only tentatively, a roadmap for efficient future strengthening of our knowledge of dogs and their world. It is my goal to stimulate thought, discussion, and consensus, preferably in that order, on the future of canine science. It is my hope that this consensus, and clear, logical path forward, will help to improve the (financial) support for canine research.

Learning Objectives:

  • How has the science of canine behavior fallen between the cracks of large-scale (i.e., Federal) funding agencies: NIH and NSF?
  • What are the major gaps in our knowledge of dog behavior—gaps which do not exist in a number of other species?
  • Understanding how we move forward with an organized, well-planned, and justifiable research program with clear objectives.
4:30 - 5:00pm

Best Emerging Researcher


Remote Interview with Special Guest

Nicola Rooney, PhD

Interview with Mia Cobb and Julie Hecht via Google Hangouts


Panel Discussion

Moderated by Mia Cobb and Julie Hecht

All our invited speakers will sit down to discuss questions from the audience and from viewers around the world who can submit questions via Twitter.

9:00 - 10:00am

Stress – Is it a headache, a killer, or something else?

Miles Orchinik, PhD

Life is full of stressors whether you are dog, a fish or a human. Even though different species and different individuals react to different stimuli, the neuroendocrine response to stressors is the same in all vertebrates. A wide variety of stressors activate: 1) the sympathetic nervous system (commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” response), and 2) a neuroendocrine cascade involving the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The major stress hormone released into the bloodstream from the adrenal cortex is corticosterone, although some vertebrates, like humans and fish, release a nearly identical corticosteroid - cortisol. The activation of the HPA axis and the release of corticosteroids (aka glucocorticoids) in response to a wide variety of stressors is the hallmark of the stress response. Beyond this, our understanding of the actions of stress hormones and the concept of stress itself is fragmented. I will present some ideas and data from several species in order to help us answer the question of whether stress is a headache, a killer, or something else.

Learning Objectives

  • Differentiate between stressors and the stress response
  • Identify the components of a stress response that are critical for surviving a range of threats to survival and reproduction
  • Use the concept of context-dependency to understand how an evolutionarily conserved and adaptive response can lead to undesirable outcomes
10:15 - 11:15am

Does Stress Make you Stupid?

Cheryl Conrad, PhD

Stress is often perceived as being detrimental to one’s health. The common image evoked when discussing stress might include the college student cramming for final exams or the harried individual working multiple jobs to pay bills. Yet, stress can motivate individuals to invest time studying for final exams or race across a thoroughfare to rescue a toddler from oncoming traffic. Stress is not unique to humans, as it is highly conserved across a variety of species. In essence, stress helps the body react to a real or perceived threat. One of the targets of the stress response is the brain, especially those regions involved in memory formation so that highly relevant information could be retained and guide behavior in the future. In the first part of this lecture, it will be discussed how a single stressful episode could impact memory. The outcome on memory will depend upon many variables and these include the level of arousal, the type of memory system engaged, and the timing of the stressful episode. In the second part of the lecture, it will be discussed how memory is impacted when stressful events persist and become chronic. Importantly, not all individuals succumb to the detrimental effects of chronic stress on memory. The variables that can make one resilient while leaving others susceptible to chronic stress effects on cognition will be discussed.

Learning Objectives:

  • How a stressful events impact memory formation with outcomes that depend upon the level of arousal, memory system engaged, and timing
  • How chronic stress affects learning and memory outcomes
  • How coping strategies interact with stress outcomes on learning and memory
11:30 – 12:30pm

On the "How" and "Why" of Stress in Dogs

Bonne Beerda, PhD

For reasons of shared biological mechanisms and functions we acknowledge that dogs, like many animals, experience feelings somewhat similar to humans. This includes negative affective states caused by a perceived failure to deal adequately with cognitive, emotional or physical challenges. Such stress manifests physiologically and behaviourally allowing us to detect it in our dogs. However, the function of the stress response is not uniquely linked to suffering, and different individuals will respond differently in stressful situations, complicating the interpretation of stress signals. Yawning, for instance, may indicate either conflict or tiredness, and has even been linked to empathy. Dogs may body shake to tend their coat, say after a swim, or do it in a context of tension release. Taking into account context and physiological measurements aid in a correct interpretation of stress related behaviour. My talk will address the complexity of interpreting stress-related behaviour and how one can deal with this. Obvious signs of stress like trembling are readily recognized by dog owners, but more subtle signs are missed by many. In turn, dogs as a species are focused on reading humans and the outcome of the latter may moderate a dog’s stress level by means of social referencing and/or social support. Co-variation of personality traits in dogs and their owners, as well as direct effects of the behaviour of owners on that of their (challenged) dogs supports this. I will address these different aspects of stress in dogs from both functional (“why” or ultimate causation) and mechanistic (“how” or proximate causation) perspectives. Awareness of behavioural signs of stress in dogs and how owners may influence their dogs’ stress will contribute to a good owner-dog relationship. 

Learning Objectives:

  • Being able to explain the regulation (mechanism) and usefulness (function) of stress in dogs
  • Becoming aware of the different stress response patterns and coping strategies in dogs
  • Acquiring examples on the complexity of reading and interpreting stress signals in dogs
  • Acquiring knowledge on how dogs read humans and are affected by this by means of social referencing
2:00 - 3:00pm

Reducing Stress of Dogs in Shelters

Michael Hennessy, PhD

Dogs entering animal shelters are confronted with an array of psychological stressors (e.g., novelty, uncertainty, separation from attachment figures). Indeed, upon admittance to a shelter, circulating levels of the primary stress hormone, cortisol, are about three times higher than observed in pet dogs sampled in their owner’s homes.  We and others have found that various schedules of human interaction can reduce the cortisol response. Among our most recent findings are that as little as 15 minutes of interaction is sufficient to significantly, though temporarily, reduce circulating cortisol levels. Multiple sessions continued to produce effects, and dogs entering the shelter as strays appeared more susceptible than dogs released by their owners. In addition, examination of cortisol accumulations in hair may provide a means of assessing the stress of dogs over a several-week period before shelter admittance. Because prolonged stress and elevations of cortisol can have lasting effects on physiology and behavior, these findings have implications for the welfare and potential adoptability of dogs confined in shelters. 

 Learning objectives:

  • The stress of shelter dogs can be reduced, but probably not eliminated.
  • Cortisol is a measure of stress but not a perfect measure.
  • Individualization of stress-reduction procedures is a goal for the future. 
3:15 - 4:15pm

Dogs for a New Century: Using Canine Science to Reduce Stress in Dogs and People

Steve Zawistowski, PhD, CAAB

The anatomical, physiological and behavioral phenotypes of dogs were adapted to fulfill a wide range of roles in their relationship with humans.  In a very short period of biological time, many of these roles have disappeared, while some new roles have developed for dogs.  In some cases, it appears that dogs have been asked to live a life without "purpose."  To what extent do these changes result in stress, and distress in dogs and their people?  New developments in canine science, including studies of behavior, cognition and genetics may provide us with the tools needed to ensure that our relationship with dogs continues to flourish in a changing world.

 Learning Objectives:

  • Defining and evaluating stress and distress
  • Understanding the implications of stress on dogs and people
  • Using canine science to reduce stress in dogs and their relationships with people
4:30 - 5:00pm

Best Emerging Researcher

5:00 - 5:15pm

Remote Interview with Special Guest

Simon Gadbois, PhD

Interview with Mia Cobb and Julie Hecht via Google Hangouts

5:30 - 6:45pm

Panel Discussion

Moderated by Mia Cobb and Julie Hecht

All our invited speakers will sit down to discuss questions from the audience and from viewers around the world who can submit questions via Twitter.

SPARCS 2015 Conference at the Phoenix Convention Center

The Phoenix Convention Center is an award-winning facility in the heart of Downtown Phoenix.Conveniently located within walking distance of major hotels, shopping, sports and entertainment venues, the center has its own dedicated stop on the METRO Light Rail Line. Sky Harbor International Airport is located just 15 minutes away. This beautiful facility with a design theme that evokes Arizona’s colorful landscape will be a fantastic location for SPARCS 2015.  

Theater Seating Capacity:200

Video Production

SPARCS will continue its tradition of producing a revolutionary technological event – three days of some of the world’s cutting edge researchers lecturing on a live stream for free. The SPARCS conference is truly an international participatory event, with viewers from over 50 countries watching the broadcast and engaging via social media.

Use #SPARCS2015 to join the conversation!

Hotel Accommodations

Special Room rate for SPARCS attendees - $109.00 plus tax - at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix. Set within the center of this cosmopolitan city, Hyatt Regency Phoenix is an urban oasis of comfort and calm. From spacious suites to delicious dining and beyond, we invite you to immerse yourself in the very essence of downtown Phoenix.

Click here to book your room!

Location and Venue


Phoenix Convention Center

100 N 3rd St Phoenix, AZ 85004

Hyatt Regency Phoenix

122 N 2nd St, Phoenix, AZ 85004

Our Sponsors

Scandia Consulting