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!

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

Speaker & Bios

  • Heather Bimonte-Nelson, PhD Heather Bimonte-Nelson is an Associate Professor at Arizona State University in the Behavioral Neuroscience division of Psychology. She received her undergraduate degree in Psychology at Richard Stockton College. To follow her interests in brain and behavior, she began her doctoral research under the mentorship of Dr. Victor Denenberg at the University of Connecticut. Her doctoral research focused on sex differences in brain morphology and function, and how ovarian hormones affect the expression of sex differences in an activational and organizational fashion... (click to 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.... (click to 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... (click to 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... (click to 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... (click to 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)... (click to 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.... (click to 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... (click to 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.... (click to 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... (click to 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... (click to 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... (click to 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.... (click to 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... (click to 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.... (click to read more!)

Conference Schedule

Friday, June 19th Learning and Memory
Saturday, June 20th Dogs Around the World
Sunday, June 21st Stress
9:00 - 9:45am

Attention and Memory

Gene Brewer, PhD

Coming soon!

10:15 - 11:00am

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).
11:30 - 12:15pm

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?  

 

2:00 - 2:45pm

Sex Differences in Learning and Memory

Heather Bimonte-Nelson, PhD

Coming Soon!

3:15 - 4:00pm

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
4:30 - 5:15pm

Best Emerging Researcher

TBA

5:15 - 5:30pm

Special Guest

Adam Miklosi, PhD

5:30 - 6:30pm

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 - 9:45am

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.
10:15 - 11:00am

When a Stray is Not Astray

Kathryn Lord, PhD

For many people when the topic of “dogs” arises the immediate picture that comes to mind are pet dogs or even working dogs. When we see free-living dogs not under the direct care of humans we assume they have strayed from this pet population.  In this talk I will discuss how free-living dogs not only vastly out number pet dogs, but are also capable of sustaining their populations without emigration from the pet dog population. I will also examine the implications that 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 - 12:15pm

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?
2:00 - 2:45pm

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.
3:15 - 4:00pm

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.

4:30 - 5:00pm

Best Emerging Researcher

TBA

5:00-5:15pm

Special Guest

TBA

5:50-7:30pm

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 - 9:45am

What is Stress?

Miles Orchinik, PhD

(coming soon)

10:15 - 11:00am

Does Stress Make you Stupid?

Cheryl Conrad, PhD

(coming soon)

11:30 – 12:15pm

TBA

TBA

(coming soon)

2:00 - 2:45pm

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 - 4:00pm

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

TBA

5:00 - 5:15pm

Special Guest

TBA

5:30 - 6:30pm

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.

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.

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

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