Dog Cop

The University of Arizona is working to answer the age-old question: Who’s a good boy?

Just miles from a major research university, there is often a plethora of interesting science and technology news to be found throughout Southern Arizona. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting developments from the region: 

University of Arizona Finds Out Who’s a Good Boy. While assistance dogs can work in positions as diverse as aiding the handicapped, sniffing for drugs or performing search and rescue, finding the correct dog has often only come down to the animal’s physical and behavioral characteristics, not mental capacity. But now, the Arizona Canine Cognition Center is finding the best dogs for the job with a new canine aptitude test for service animals.

“People have really focused on temperament and how reactive a dog is to certain things in the environment,” said Evan MacLean, director of UA’s Arizona Canine Cognition Center. “What we were interested in was the fact that these dogs also face cognitive challenges. They have to learn all these things in the course of their training, and they have to be able to flexibly solve problems when things go wrong.”

With the aptitude test, MacLean and his colleagues looked at the performances of 164 assistance dogs versus 222 explosive-detection dogs on 25 different cognitive measures. The researchers tested the dogs at 18 months old, when they first started a training program. Dogs were considered “successful” based on if they graduated training. Through cognitive testing, researchers were able to predict the top 25 percent of graduates with 86 percent accuracy.

Arizona Board of Education adopts “Science Standards”. On Oct. 22, The Arizona State Board of Education adopted the AZ Science Standards, a list of recommendations from the Arizona Science Teachers Association. The standards aim to “present a vision of what it means to be scientifically literate, and college and career ready” and to “logically build scientific literacy from kindergarten through high school”. The standards are a 114-page document listing the different subjects to be taught in different grades, the hours-per-week students should spend learning about science, and the processes of critical thinking that lend themselves to better understanding. This came at the same point the State Board adopted Social Science and Computer Science Standards.

Climate Adaptation Science Center Receives $4.5M. The Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center at the UA received a five-year, $4.5 million grant from the US Geological Survey. These funds aim to support the center’s research on climate science and adaptation throughout the local region.

“We want to deliver science in ways that they can use it, that’s actionable,” said Gregg Garfin, director of the SWCASC. “Research shows that an engaged process of researchers coproducing science alongside practitioners leads to more satisfaction with outcomes and more useable information.”

In specifics, the center will continue its investigations into droughts, the risk of floods from Arizona’s unusual rainfall extremes increasing in frequency, and the temperature increases that underlie these trends. This comes within a week of the UA joining the University Climate Change Coalition, a consortium of 18 North American research institutions dedicated to practical climate solutions.

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