Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Finding Out if Dogs Like Cats - Or Not

A new study investigates the best way to find out if a dog will get on with cats.

A dog and a cat greet each other outside

When dogs are waiting for adoption at a shelter, a common question is “what is the dog like with cats?” But at the moment there’s no validated way to test dogs to see if they will be friendly to cats.

Some dogs become good friends with cats, but other dogs want to chase and kill them, so it would really help if shelters knew if a dog is cat-friendly.

Sometimes the person who surrenders a dog will provide information, but typically this isn’t available. So staff may walk the dog past one of the shelter cats to see how it responds. This is potentially very stressful for the cat, and we don’t know if the dog’s response is typical of how it would behave away from the shelter environment.

A new study by Dr. Christy Hoffman (Canisius College) et al sets out to investigate what a cat-friendliness assessment might look like. They tested pet dogs with a realistic-looking cat doll, recordings of cat sounds, and the smell of cat urine.

Lead author Dr. Christy Hoffman told me in an email,
“We had several cool findings. For one, dogs sniffed our control object (a stuffed pillowcase) more when it smelled like cat urine than when it did not; however, when our cat-like doll smelled like cat urine, the dogs did not invest any additional time into sniffing the cat doll than when it did not smell like cat urine. Our interpretation of what was going on in the dogs’ heads: “If it looks like a cat and smells like a cat, so what? If it doesn’t look like a cat but smells like one, that’s interesting!” To me, the finding suggests dogs perceived the cat-like doll as actually being cat-like. We thought that was interesting.

The other main finding was that dogs that had a history of killing/injuring cats or other small animals spent significantly more time orienting to the cat sounds than dogs that did not have such a history. While we did not develop a shelter-based assessment tool that could predict which dogs are cat-appropriate as part of our study, we think the findings could contribute to the development of such a tool.”
69 pet dogs of a variety of breeds and mixed-breeds took part in the study, which took place in a lab at Canisius College. 54 of the dogs happened to live with a cat.

The study separated visual, auditory and olfactory information. The visual cat stimulus was an animatronic Persian cat doll manufactured by Hasbro. A control visual stimulus was made by sticking eyes on a pillow case and putting a motorized ball inside (so it still had eyes and moved, but was not cat-like).

The auditory stimulus was a recording of cats miaowing, with a couple of growls too. The control was the sound of coins dropping.

Half of the dogs took part in the olfactory condition in which the items smelled of cat urine, and the other half had no odour added.

A dog and cat look at each other through the window

The dogs were video-taped to see how they responded to the inanimate cat toy vs control, the animated cat toy vs the animated control, and the cat sounds vs the coin sounds. The videos were analysed to see how much time each dog spent looking towards, focussing on and sniffing each stimulus.

The dogs spent the same amount of time orienting to the cat stimulus, whether it was animated or inanimate. For the control visual stimulus, they spent longer orienting to it when it was animated (i.e. the balls were moving inside the pillow case).

Dogs spent longer orienting to the cat sound compared to the control sound or the visual cat stimulus. They also spent more time orienting to the visual cat stimulus than the visual control, and to the control sound than the visual control.

In other words, they were prioritizing the auditory information over visual, and they were most interested in the cat sounds.

Dogs sniffed the cat doll more than the pillow case, whether or not they were in the olfactory condition in which both items smelled of cat pee. So this suggests they did find the cat doll to be cat-like, in much the same way dogs seem to find stuffed dogs dog-like.

Whether or not the dog lived with a cat did not significantly affect the results.

However, 4 of the dogs had previously killed or injured a cat, and 14 had previously killed or injured a small furry animal. So the researchers looked to see if there were any differences in behaviour between these dogs and those with no such history.

They found the dogs with a history of killing/injuring a cat or other small furry creature spent longer orienting to the cat sounds than the other dogs. There was no effect for visual or olfactory information. This suggests that a test based on cat sounds might be a good way to separate out the dogs that would not be safe with cats.

Future research on olfaction could use scent collected from cats’ scent glands (e.g. when the cat rubs on something) instead of urine, which might be more realistic.

Developing assessments for shelter dogs is difficult. This study takes the first steps in finding out how to evaluate dogs to see if they get on with cats, without stressing any cats in the process. The results suggest focussing on auditory information could be a good way to find out.

This is important research because a validated test to see if dogs are feline-friendly would be very useful for animal shelters.

How does your dog get on with cats?

Hoffman, C., Workman, M., Roberts, N., & Handley, S. (2017). Dogs’ responses to visual, auditory, and olfactory cat-related cues Applied Animal Behaviour Science DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2016.12.016
Photos: shubbel (top) and TN Photographer (both
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Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Five Domains Model Aims to Help Animals Thrive

An updated approach to animal welfare includes opportunities for positive experiences for our companion (and other) animals.

A cute border collie outside

“…the overall objective is to provide opportunities for animals to ‘thrive’, not simply ‘survive’” (Mellor, 2016)

The Five Freedoms

Animal welfare is traditionally defined by the Five Freedoms. These are

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour
  • Freedom from fear and distress

You can see the original list on the – now archived – page of the UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Council and the Council’s 2009 report on farm animal welfare in Great Britain.

You will also find them listed on many SPCA and humane society websites, including by the BC SPCA and the ASPCA, because the Five Freedoms frame how they look after the animals in their care.

The Five Freedoms have defined animal welfare internationally, not just for farmed animals but also for our companion animals. Each of the Freedoms has a corresponding Provision that enables the Freedom to be met. For example, ‘freedom from hunger and thirst’ has the provision “by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.”

Updating the Five Freedoms

You might have already noticed that most of the Freedoms are ‘freedom from’ something unpleasant. Research by Professor David Mellor (Massey University) suggests improvements that include positive welfare as well.

There are two main disadvantages to the Five Freedoms approach, according to Mellor (2016).

The first is that some people have taken them to mean something that is an absolute, rather than an ideal. This is despite the fact the FAWC says “These freedoms define ideal states rather than standards for acceptable welfare.”

Mellor says that some people even see them as ‘rights’ for the animals. However, he says, some of these are biological drives – if animals did not feel thirst, they would never drink, for example. So we can’t expect that an animal would never feel thirst; it’s more that they should never get too thirsty, because water should be available to them when they do feel thirst.

The second disadvantage is that the approach focusses on problems. Mellor says it’s because that is what was important at the time, and that the Five Freedoms have been very successful.

However, now we are more aware of the idea of providing positive experiences, and so they should be incorporated into our model of good animal welfare.

Two black poodles playing with their toys on the lawn

The Five Provisions and Welfare Aims

The updated set of Five Provisions/Welfare Aims incorporates positive experiences as well as minimizing negative ones. It is designed to be easily understood and memorable, just like the original Five Freedoms.

A table to explain the model of good animal welfare
Reproduced from Mellor (2016) under Creative Commons licence

Professor David Mellor told me in an email,

“An animal’s welfare refers to what it experiences. Experiences can be negative or positive. An early idea was that animals should be kept free of conditions inside and outside their bodies that lead to negative experiences. We now know that some internal conditions and related negative experiences are needed to keep animals alive. For example, breathlessness helps to regulate breathing, thirst ensures that animals drink enough water, hunger gets them to eat enough food, and pain drives them to avoid or withdraw from things that cause injuries. So we cannot eliminate these experiences, but we can avoid extremes of them. Thus, good care can ensure that such negative experiences stay at low levels, but are still available to get the animals to behave in particular ways that help to keep them alive. Regarding hunger, you should be careful not to overfeed your pet.

"Other negative experiences are due to an animal’s external circumstances. These may arise when animals are kept alone in a small, featureless area with little to do, or when they feel threatened in various ways. Loneliness, depression, boredom, fear and anxiety are examples of these experiences. Fortunately, if the animals are given congenial company, plenty of space, a variety of things to do and feel safe and secure, these negative experiences can be replaced by positive feelings of comfort, pleasure, interest, confidence and a sense of control.

"The aims of animal care should therefore be both to keep the negative experiences generated within the body at low levels, and to replace various other negative experiences by providing comfortable, congenial, interesting and safe surroundings.

"The Five Provisions/Welfare Aims approach helps us to do this. The Provisions guide the way we care for animals by ensuring they have good nutrition, good environment, good health, appropriate behaviour and positive mental experiences. The Welfare Aims linked to the provisions direct our attention to the experiences we want to reduce to low levels and to the other experiences we want to encourage.”

The Five Provisions/Welfare Aims are consistent with the Five Domains Model of animal welfare that is an update to the Five Freedoms. The Five Domains are nutrition, environment, health, behavior, and mental state, and you will notice that the names of the Five Provisions map onto these domains.

Illustrating the Five Domains Model

A paper by Kat Littlewood and David Mellor provides an example of how the new approach works. They take a fictional scenario of a working farm dog called Jess who gets injured. They walk the reader through the dog’s welfare at six different stages in her life. The scenario was chosen so that it does not present an ideal, and both positive and negative aspects of welfare are assessed. It is the first use of the new Five Domains model.

The paper follows Jess from her initial working role herding sheep on a farm, through a traumatic injury caused by getting stuck on a barbed wire fence, subsequent emergency veterinary care, having to have a front leg amputated, six weeks recovery time in a new home, and then her subsequent life as a tripod pet dog.

A tripod dog runs along the beach by the sea

At each stage, Littlewood and Mellor illustrate how to assess Jess’s welfare in terms of both the compromises and enhancements that apply.  Compromises in each of the five domains are assessed using a letter scale from A (meaning no compromises) to E (very severe compromises). Compromises include states such as being hungry and thirsty, as well as affective responses such as fear, anxiety and boredom.

Enhancements in each domain are graded on a four-point scale from none to high level enhancement, and take account of the extent to which the animal has choices (“agency”).

They say enhancement “includes the genetically pre-programmed, or learned, affectively positive impulses to engage in rewarding behaviours, and it also includes positive affects related to anticipation, goal achievement and memory of success.”

Assessment in any domain involves looking at both compromises and enhancements.

Throughout the fictional scenario, there are times when some aspects of welfare are better than others. The time of the traumatic injury is the worst and several domains are graded as D (marked or severe compromise) with no enhancement.

In the final stage, after the leg amputation and recovery period, Jess is in her new home. She is allowed to sleep inside the house, has a Fox Terrier for companionship, and can even herd sheep from to time. Her welfare in her new home is not compromised, and is rated as having high level enhancement.

The paper provides a very detailed and helpful assessment of overall welfare, which shows how to apply the model to each stage of Jess’s life. This illustration will enable others to make good use of the Five Domains model in different situations.

Implications of the Five Domains Model

The Five Domains model has broad implications, including for animal cruelty investigations.

Kat Littlewood and David Mellor told me in an email,

“The Five Domains Model for welfare assessment recognises the dynamic integration of the basic functional processes within the body, the experiences animals may have and interactions between function and experience. Thus, biological function can affect animals’ subjective experiences, and their subjective experiences can affect their biological function. For example: shortage of oxygen can lead to breathlessness, dehydration to thirst and injury to pain; and emotionally threatening circumstances, giving rise to anxiety and/or fear, and injury-induced pain can lead to elevated heart rate, blood pressure and blood levels of stress hormones.

"In terms of prosecutions for ill treatment of animals it has been, and is still, common for biological function to be the basis of assessments of detrimental welfare impacts. This created difficulties for the Prosecution because Defence lawyers can and do challenge expert witness testimony based on interpreting such functional changes in terms of what the animals may have experienced: How can you be sure that this increase in heart rate or stress hormone level or other such measurement shows that the animal was actually experiencing severe suffering? And often, by the time these offences are brought before the court the animal has received the care and attention it needed so that its welfare state has improved significantly. In such cases, a retrospective welfare assessment is required.

"However, it is now possible to align the presumed welfare insult, the animal’s behaviour and our well-developed understanding of the brain processing involved in expressing these behaviours in ways that provide convincing support for animals having the particular negative experiences caused by the particular form(s) of ill treatment as described. The Five Domains Model and our understanding of the science that underlies it facilitate this process and as this paper shows, these assessments can be carried out retrospectively. Dr Rebecca Ledger in Canada has found this approach to be most successful.”

A sleepy cat looking relaxed on a bed

Dr. Rebecca Ledger spoke to Pete McMartin of the Vancouver Sun about her use of modern behavioural science in successful animal cruelty prosecutions. She told him, “I believe we are the first people in Canada to apply behavioural evidence in these kinds of cases and to infer emotional suffering based on behavioural evidence.

“I think the reason it’s taken up until now for these kinds of charges to be laid and accepted was that people were always concerned that we might be anthropomorphizing, because we can’t ask animals directly how they feel. But just like us, they can communicate in other ways. They can react to a negative situation with a physiological stress response, for example. And that physiological response is measurable.”

The New Five Domains Approach to Animal Welfare

Although the Five Freedoms have been around for some time, a recent UK report found that 65% of pet owners are not aware of their legal requirements regarding animal welfare, as explained in this article by Pete Wedderburn. So there is obviously work to do to inform pet owners about the Five Provisions/Welfare Aims and what it means for their responsibilities to their pets.

However, the idea that animals should have positive experiences is one that I think many pet owners will be happy to hear about and keen to adopt.

The Five Freedoms have made a tremendous contribution to animal welfare. Prof. Mellor’s approach updates them to take account of scientific advances in how we understand animals, and to incorporate positive experiences. The Five Domains model is a significant development in animal welfare that many people will be interested to learn about. The Five Provisions/Welfare Aims incorporate this model and are designed to help ordinary people understand this approach.

Both of these papers therefore make an important contribution to the literature in and of themselves, as well as showing how to communicate these new updates in a way that people can understand.

If you want more information on the research discussed in this post, you’ll be glad to know the articles are open access and you can read them via the links below. You can also learn more about the Five Domains model in another 2016 paper by David Mellor (also open access). And you can follow Kat Littlewood on twitter and Facebook.

What do you do to ensure your pet has positive experiences?

Littlewood, K., & Mellor, D. (2016). Changes in the Welfare of an Injured Working Farm Dog Assessed Using the Five Domains Model Animals, 6 (9) DOI: 10.3390/ani6090058
Mellor DJ (2016). Moving beyond the "Five Freedoms" by Updating the "Five Provisions" and Introducing Aligned "Animal Welfare Aims". Animals : an open access journal from MDPI, 6 (10) PMID: 27669313
Photos: Dora Zett (top), Daz Stock (middle) and endlesssea2011 (
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Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The Pet People to Follow in 2017

The canine and feline scientists, pet professionals, bloggers and organizations to follow on social media in 2017.

Beagle in a winter wonderland

Are you looking for some new accounts to follow in 2017? I’ve compiled a list of some of the best people and organizations to follow on twitter and Facebook if you’re interested in companion animals, science, and the human-animal bond.

Not only do they produce great content of their own, they also have a varied feed that includes news, research and interesting snippets from around the web.

I’ve given links to twitter and Facebook accounts so you can follow however you choose (some are more active on one than the other). The first link is always to twitter, Facebook second if they are on there too.

The list is in no particular order, so read through and see who you would like to follow.

Of course, there are many talented people in the world, so please add your own suggestions for people or organizations to follow in the comments below.

Dr. John Bradshaw – anthrozoologist and best-selling author of Dog Sense (In Defence of Dogs), Cat Sense, and co-author of The Trainable Cat

Dr. Sarah Ellis (Facebook) – co-author of the Trainable Cat and feline behaviour specialist at International Cat Care

Dr. Hal Herzog – Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Western Carolina University and author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, and Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals

Dr. Alexandra Horowitz – canine cognition scientist and author of the best-selling books Inside of a Dog and Being a Dog.

Family Dog Project (Facebook) – the canine behaviour research group shares frequent updates on the latest scientific research from their team and others around the globe

Julie Hecht (Dog Spies) – don't miss the fantastic posts on canine science at Julie's Scientific American blog Dog Spies

Mia Cobb (Do You Believe in dog?) – now a canine science community with guest posts from young scientists on the blog and a feed full of news about canine science, including opportunities to participate

International Cat Care (Facebook) – a great resource for cat lovers, with information and advice for owners and professionals, as well as cute cat pictures too

Dr. Ilana Reisner (Facebook) – this veterinary behaviourist regularly deconstructs dog bite incidents to teach you how to prevent dog bites, and shares interesting and evidence-based items on animal behaviour and training

Mikel Delgado (Feline Minds) – Certified Cat Behaviour Consultant and PhD candidate shares information about cats and squirrels, with especially useful information on food puzzles for cats

Ingrid Johnson (Fundamentally Feline) –  education about cats and gorgeous photos from this Certified Cat Behaviour Consultant

BC SPCA (Facebook) – in amongst the photos of adoptable animals there is plenty of advice on how to care for pets, including #TipTuesday videos

Maddie’s Fund (Facebook) – lots of tips to help shelter dogs and cats, along with social media and website advice for the people running the shelters #ThankstoMaddie

The Academy for Dog Trainers (Facebook) – for links to top-notch dog training advice from Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers (“the Harvard of dog training”)

Kristi Benson (Facebook) – dog trainer, sled dog rescuer, and Academy tutor, with a funny and entertaining dog training blog

Maureen Backman (Mutt About Town) – a philosophical approach to reward-based dog training, plus lots of useful info on muzzles via the Muzzle Up project

Pet Professional Guild (Facebook) – advice on dog training and news from the organization for force free pet professionals

IAABC – information on behaviour problems in pets and links to journal articles and mentorships from the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants

Jessica Perry Hekman DVM (Facebook) – the author of The Dog Zombie blog is also a PhD candidate in genomics and is a great explainer of canine genetics

Dr. Brian Hare (Facebook) – information on animal minds and evolution, especially dogs and bonobos, from the associate professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke and founder of Dognition

Pam Johnson-Bennett (Facebook) – cat news and tips from the best-selling author of Think Like a Cat and host of Animal Planet’s Psycho Kitty

Susan Little DVM – this veterinarian specializes in feline medicine and has a twitter feed packed with intriguing facts about cats

Dr. Melanie Rock – information about non-human animals and health, including dog parks and dog bite prevention, from this Associate Professor at the University of Calgary

Martha Smith-Blackmore DVM – this compassionate expert in veterinary forensics is a Faculty Fellow at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and shares information on animal cruelty and animal welfare

Dr. Malcolm Campbell – biologist and Vice President (Research) at the University of Guelph, follow Malcolm for science tweets and #SixIncredibleThingsBeforeBreakfast that will blow your mind about animals and the universe

Katzenworld Blog (Facebook) – for chatty posts, product reviews and cute cat photos, with some articles on cat health and behaviour too

Fear Free (Facebook) – the new movement to help dogs and cats have a better experience at the veterinarian

The Centre for Shelter Dogs (Facebook) – part of the Cummings Veterinary School at Tufts University and brings you lots of resources to help shelter dogs

Anthrozoology Research Group (Facebook)  – shares links to interesting anthrozoological research by themselves and from around the globe

Dr. Sam Gaines (Sidney Snippets) – head of the Companion Animal dept at the RSPCA, with lots of tips to improve animal welfare and #EndBSL

Dr. Rachel Casey – veterinary behaviourist and animal welfare scientist at Dogs Trust, so look out for lots of great info on canine behaviour

Dr. Chris Blazina – psychologist with a special interest in understanding men and their canine best friends, shares interesting links about human animal interaction

Dr. Alan McElligott – tweets about his research and about animal behaviour, welfare and cognition generally; look out especially for the entertaining goat stories

ASA Animals Society (Facebook) – the American Sociological Association looks at the complex relationships between humans and animals

Dr. Marc Abraham (Facebook) – animal welfare campaigner and veterinarian of the year, with regular games of #GuessTheBreed

Dr. Pete Wedderburn (Facebook) – veterinary advice and news, and you’ll find a large library of articles on his website too.

Pupaid (Facebook) – a UK group campaigning against puppy farms and sharing followers’ photos of their adopted pets

Dr. Sophia Yin (Facebook) – the account of the company set up by the late Dr. Sophia Yin, CattleDog Publishing, shares her writings and educational links on animal behaviour.

Dr Marty Becker DVM (Facebook) veterinary information and stories about the human-animal bond from America’s veterinarian

Montreal SPCA (Facebook) – help them campaign against Breed Specific Legislation by following them and their hashtag #SaferKinderCommunities

How to follow people on twitter and facebook

On twitter: 

Following someone is as simple as clicking the follow button, but did you know you can make lists to make it easy to keep track of your favourite accounts? They can be private (so that only you know about them) or public (so the people on the list get a notification, and anyone can follow your list).

You will find a lists tab on your profile page, or you can use the gear icon drop-down menu.

On Facebook: 

When you like a page, you automatically also follow it, which means you should see page updates in your feed. You can follow a page without liking it if you prefer. Whichever you pick, Facebook’s algorithm will choose what you see. If you regularly interact with a page (like, comment, share), you are more likely to see their posts.

You can also select the option to get notifications from your favourite pages (go to the page, click on the ‘following’ tab, turn notifications on and choose the options you want e.g. ‘all posts’).

Looking for even more people to follow?

This is easiest on twitter. Pick some of your favourite accounts, see who they retweet and talk to, look at who they are following, and go follow the accounts you like the look of.

You will also always find interesting reading in my blogs to follow list, which updates automatically each time there is a new post.

You’ll find me on twitter, Facebook and pinterest, and of course you can also follow Companion Animal Psychology by email. Subscribers can send me their thoughts on a post by simply hitting the reply button.

Now it’s your turn to add to the list! Please leave your suggestions in the comments box.

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