Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Video helps the shelter dog (more than photos)

Adoptable dogs seen in video get more positive ratings than those seen in photos, according to new research

Portrait of a happy Staffordshire Bull Terrier

A new study by Chloe Pyzer et al (Hartpury College) compared people’s perceptions of adoptable dogs when they were shown video or still photographs. The results showed that video is the best way to show people adoptable dogs.

Dr. Tamara Montrose, one of the study authors, told me in an email,
“In our study, we found that viewing dogs in videos as opposed to photographs tended to result in more positive perceptions of the dogs’ behavioural traits. Dogs viewed by videos were considered to be more trainable, intelligent, friendly, and gentle and less dominant, aggressive, and unsociable. The positive effects of viewing dogs in videos was seen for both dogs of more desirable breeds and for dogs of less desirable and frequently stigmatised breeds.  
These findings are not only of academic interest but have clear applications for rehoming shelters. Many rehoming shelters use photographs, videos or a mixture of the two media types when advertising their animals for adoption. One factor that may deter some shelter workers from making videos of their animals is the extra time this necessitates, when the benefits of this approach is unclear.  
 The findings of our study suggest that the extra time spent making a video may be beneficial in better promoting dogs to the public, and that greater use of video by rehoming shelters may provide an effective method for promoting adoption of both desired, and more stigmatised breeds.” 
735 people completed a questionnaire which featured four dogs from an animal re-homing centre in the UK.

Two Staffordshire Bull Terriers, an 11 year old male and a 3 year old female, were chosen to represent a breed that is widely seen as less desirable. Breed specific legislation in the UK bans ‘pit bull types’ and sometimes people perceive Staffordshire Bull Terriers as being similar. Two other dogs were chosen to represent breeds that are seen as desirable: a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel-Chihuahua cross and a Toy Poodle, both of whom are female and 5 years old.

In the still photographs, each dog is shown sitting, wearing their dog walking equipment so that the equipment was the same in both video and photos. The videos for each dog show 30 seconds of the dog walking on leash and interacting with the dog walker.

People rated the dogs on six positive and six negative traits. Each person saw photographs of two dogs (one deemed a desirable breed and one deemed not so) and video of the two other dogs.

A cute goldendoodle puppy sits on a chair in the garden

Regardless of whether the dog was seen as a desirable breed or not, they were given more positive ratings based on video clips rather than a still photograph.

All of the dogs had better ratings (higher or lower as appropriate) on the video clips for the qualities of being trainable, friendly, gentle, intelligent, dominant, aggressive and unsociable. Although there was variation for individual dogs with some of the other qualities, it was still the case that most dogs got better ratings for being playful and obedient based on the video.

Although these results did not look at adoption rates, earlier research has shown that dogs that are seen as friendly to children, dogs and other pets have higher adoption rates. So if video leads to dogs being perceived in a more positive light, it seems worth the time for animal shelters to put together videos, at least for some of their animals. Future research can use a larger number of dogs and investigate if it actually leads to shorter waits for adoption.

Earlier research has also shown that great photos make a difference to the speed at which dogs are adopted. There is plenty of scope for future studies to investigate the best features of photo and video to use and whether or not including people makes a difference.

Of course, the scientists point out that as well as showing dogs in a positive light, videos need to be realistic so that people get a fair idea of the dog they would be adopting. This will help to keep return rates low.

It’s especially interesting that positive results were found for video of both desirable and less desirable breeds.

When you are looking at adoptable dogs, do you feel that you get more information from video than photos?

You might also like: Large study finds no evidence for ‘black dog syndrome’, shelter dogs live up to expectations (mostly), and proof the internet helps cat adoptions.

Pyzer, C, Clarke, L and Montrose, VT (2016) Effects of video footage vs photographs on perception of dog behavioural traits. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 20(1) 42-51. DOI:
Photos: Melounix (top) and Krumina Studios (both

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Sunday, 19 March 2017

Companion Animal Psychology News March 2017

A goldfish with a wheelchair, trained cats, and a ban on prong and choke collars - the latest news on dogs and cats.

A dog and cat read the latest pet news from March 2017

Some of my favourites from around the web this month:

25 things you probably didn’t know about dogs by Hal Herzog. What the latest canine science teaches us about dogs.

Cats getting “eufloric”. Mikel Delgado reviews a new study on how cats respond to catnip, valerian, silvervine and honeysuckle. Do your cats get olfactory enrichment?

“She is my friend”. Beautiful post by Lori Nanan of Your Pit Bull and You on our relationship with dogs.

Recognizing the superhero in your senior dog by Maureen Backman. For those of you with senior dogs.

Mounting evidence to prove that flat-faced cat breeds are suffering by Marc-André at Katzenworld blog.

Traveling the world with cats and a dog by Andrew Harding.

Pets in the news…

Homeless woman’s dog ‘is my everything’. A report from the Sacramento Bee about a program that provides veterinary care to pets of the homeless.  And, helping the pets of the homeless in NYC.

A life-saving domestic violence pet shelter in Victoria, Australia, is struggling to meet demand

Meanwhile in Ottawa, the SafePet program helps look after the pets of women leaving domestic violence. Ayala Sher has been honoured by the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association for her work in founding the program.

In Toronto, it is increasingly common for landlords to require references for pets as well as people  according to the CBC. In BC, pet owners rally to change rental laws. Only 10% of rental properties in Vancouver allow pets, says Eliot Galan, organizer of the campaign.

There are moves to regulate dog training in Hillsborough County and the entire state of Florida. It’s being called Sarge’s law after the death of a dog called Sarge in 2015. (More on what happened to Sarge here in this post by Marc Bekoff about dog training's "dirty little secret").

And since dog training is not regulated, we also get stories like this: Woman charged after taping dead rooster to dog’s neck. 7News reports that she faces a possible penalty of a $1000 dollar fine and 90 days in jail.

In other dog training news, Toronto’s bylaw that bans prong and choke collars took effect 1st March.

BC targets irresponsible breeders with changes to animal welfare legislation. The amendments allow for the establishment of an external regulatory agency that includes inspectors who would be responsible for enforcing standards of care for breeders”

Indoor cats have high levels of brominated flame retardants in their blood due to chemicals in the home.  “The results are very interesting because small children, notorious for putting everything in their mouths, have exposures to these chemicals similar to cats.”

The most common pet toxin is human prescription  medicines. The list of the top 10 pet toxins of 2016 is compiled by the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.

And a troubled goldfish has got a customized wheelchair.

Upcoming Events

On Tuesday, March 28th, Lori Nanan of iSpeakDog is giving a free webinar aimed at teaching people how to better understand their dogs. The webinar is hosted by the Academy for Dog Trainers. Although the live webinar is already full, those who sign up will be sent a link to the recording.

Separation Anxiety: Mission Possible with Malena De Martini-Price at Women’s Human Society, Bensalem, PA, April 29 – 30 2017.

Seminar with Debbie Jacobs on the most effective and humane ways to work with fearful dogs in Denver, NC on 20th May 2017.

The Human-Animal Bond and Companion Animals: Implications for Animal Welfare, Society and Veterinarians. Weds 21st June 2017, Royal Veterinary College – University of London (Camden Campus). Speakers include Prof Danny Mills, Dr. Siobhan Abeysinge, Dr. Sandra McCune, Peter Gorbing, Dr. Alex German, chaired by Martin Whiting.

Pam Johnson-Bennett’s CatWise Cat CafĂ© tour visits cat cafes across the United States, and starts at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Florida on March 23rd.

Photos and Videos

Looking back at American dog shows in the early 1900s via the Washington Post.

Readers’ prize-winning photos of cats via The Guardian.

A day in the life of a dog at Crufts. A photo-essay from The Guardian.

Photographer Isaac Alvarez was fed up of people judging his dog, so he made a series of photos blending dogs with their owners.

Cats from Ravenna with photos by Marianna Zampieri.

Photos of the faces of stray cats who live on the streets in Vilnius, Lithuania, by Gabriel Khiterer.

Three beautiful cats, Tomu, Eemeli and Kira show off their tricks:


Here at Companion Animal Psychology

This month, the Companion Animal Psychology Book Club is reading Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell by Alexandra Horowitz. Highly recommended.

Next month, we will be reading (or re-reading) The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs by Patricia McConnell.

Don’t miss Jane Gething-Lewis’s guest post, dearly departed dogs, about what online pet obituaries tell us about the experience of losing a pet. My own top post of the last month was about play bows in domestic dogs and hand-reared wolves and this month’s trending archive post is where do cats like to be stroked? I was also delighted to share more photos of happy dogs who are friends of Companion Animal Psychology.

As always, if you want to stay up-to-date, subscribe by email.

Companion Animal Psychology is about to reach an important milestone. Stay tuned…

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Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The benefits of pets for children

A review of the literature concludes that pets may have psychological benefits for children – such as better self-esteem – but more research is needed.

A girl and her dog sit together on the grass in the park

The review, by Rebecca Purewal (University of Liverpool) et al involved searching the scientific literature from 1960 to 2016 for studies that examine the effects of pets on children’s psychological health. 22 studies were identified and analysed further.

The results show benefits in some areas, but not enough evidence to draw conclusions in other areas. The paper also considers the potential mechanisms for such effects.

The scientists write,
“This paper provides a review of the evidence on the effects of pet ownership on emotional, behavioural, cognitive, educational and social development. Overall, the evidence suggests that pet ownership, and dog ownership in particular, may benefit these outcomes for children and adolescents. However, the evidence is mixed partly due to a broad range of different methodological approaches and varying quality of studies.”
The scientists used quite broad criteria in selecting the studies for their review. The 22 studies they looked at include two that have been covered on Companion Animal Psychology: Geerdts et al on pets and children’s understanding of biological concepts, and Rhoades et al on the effects of pets on the mental health of homeless youth.

First, the good news. Purewal et al found evidence that pets may be good for children’s emotional health, especially in terms of better self-esteem and reduced loneliness. There also seemed to be benefits in terms of being better able to take another person’s perspective, and for intellectual development.

They also found social benefits – bigger social networks, better social competence, and more social play. (Interestingly, pets have also been found to increase social networks for adults).

However, they did not really find evidence for improvements in depression and anxiety, and there was not enough evidence to come to any conclusions about behaviour development.

The paper describes several potential mechanisms by which pets might benefit children. The effects of the hormone oxytocin may lead to reduced stress, and pets may provide social support. Pets may help to meet children’s needs for a secure attachment, and this could be especially important in cases where a child has poor attachment to their parents. Indeed, it is possible that attachment to pets may be more important than simply owning a pet.

A boy holds his Yorkshire Terrier in his arms

The authors provide illustrations of how effects might occur for each of the domains where an effect was found. For example, improved educational outcomes may be due to better social support and reduced stress, which in turn may cause better executive functioning which will improve learning. Interactions with the pet (such as having conversations with the pet) may also lead to better language skills and social cognition.

Potential benefits of pets may also be related to the stage of a child’s development. For example, young children who are learning about social relationships may especially benefit from interactions with a pet. For self-esteem, it seems that pet ownership is of most benefit to younger children (under 6) and those over 10 years old.

The review highlights a number of problems with the available evidence, such as small sample sizes,  only collecting data at one time-point (therefore not able to assess potential effects over time), and sometimes classifying children as non-pet owners at a particular time when they may have previously had a pet that is now deceased.

Also, there are differences in the kinds of pets studied, and although it appears that dogs had the greatest potential, in some cases other pets (that were not dogs or cats) were not included as pets in the research. So more research is needed to understand the relationship children have with different kinds of pets, and whether this means some pets are more likely to be beneficial than others.

The authors also highlight potential confounding variables. For example, there might be differences in the kind of parent who acquires a pet compared to those who don’t, and it’s possible this could account for some of the effects.

As well as summarizing the literature, the article highlights the need for better quality evidence on the possible benefits of pets. While the potential risks of pets are outside the scope of the paper, they are mentioned. The most obvious might be the risk of dog bites, which young children are especially vulnerable to, but there are also risks of allergies, acquiring an infection from a pet, and of grief on the loss of pet.

That's why it's so helpful to know that research finds dogs and cats may benefit children in some aspects, such as improved self-esteem and bigger social networks. The review highlights priorities for future research, and shows that improving the quality of research in this field is essential. Hopefully it will be a catalyst for better-designed and longitudinal studies in this area.

The paper is open access so you can read it in full. You can also follow one of the authors of the study, Dr. Carri Westgarth, on twitter.

How do you think pets might help children?

You might also like: Reading to dogs may improve literacy and what pets do children have and which do they prefer?

You may also read this post in Chinese, courtesy of our friends at Bambiland Pet Photography and Dog Training.

Purewal, R., Christley, R., Kordas, K., Joinson, C., Meints, K., Gee, N., & Westgarth, C. (2017). Companion Animals and Child/Adolescent Development: A Systematic Review of the Evidence International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14 (3) DOI: 10.3390/ijerph14030234
Photos: Africa Studio (top) and zagorodnaya (both
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