Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Why You Need to Socialize Your Puppy

The importance of socialization can’t be stressed enough. Here's how we know - and what it means for puppy owners.

Puppies - like this cute pup walking along a log - must be socialized, and here's the research that first told us this


These days, more and more people understand that puppies need to be socialized. But sometimes people wonder, how do we know this? It’s based on classic research in canine science.


What does science tell us about the need to socialize puppies?


Many papers contribute to our understanding of puppies. In 1950, J.P. Scott and Mary-‘Vesta Marston published a study of 17 litters, including the earliest age at which they opened their eyes for the first time, began to walk, and engaged in play. They hypothesized there were critical periods in canine development. 

In 1959, C.J. Pfaffenberger and J.P. Scott noticed that puppies being raised to be guide dogs were more likely to fail their training if they were kept in kennels for longer and missed some early socialization.

Then in 1961, Daniel Freedman, John King and Orville Elliott published research on puppies in Science. They said, 
“the net result suggests that the seventh week of age was the period in which the pups were most receptive to socialization, and that 2½ to 9-13 weeks of age approximates a critical period for socialization to human beings.”
They studied eight litters of puppies (five of Cocker Spaniels, three of Beagles). It was an isolation experiment in which each mother and her pups were kept in a fenced one-acre field without any contact with people. Food and water was supplied via openings in the fence. 

Every week, certain pups were taken from each litter for 7 days of socialization. The socialization does not match what people do for puppies nowadays; in fact, during their week indoors, the pup was played with, fed and otherwise taken care of, during just three thirty minute sessions per day. 

Pups were taken from their litters for socialization at either 2, 3, 5, 7 or 9 weeks of age. At the end of the week, they were returned to their mum and litter-mates. 

Every day during the socialization there was a 10 minute test of how much time the puppy would spend near the experimenter. The 2-week old pups were too young to really do anything. But by 3 weeks, they were able to interact with the experimenter and “spent most of the 10 minute period pawing, mouthing and biting him and his garments.” At 5, 7 and 9 weeks old it is reported that the pups were initially wary but then warmed up (within one play session, two days and three days respectively).

Puppies - like this cute Shar Pei - must be socialized to be calm, friendly, adult dogs. Here's the classic research that showed this - and what it means for you.
Photos: Lex-art (top) & Zuzule (both Shutterstock.com)

At 14 weeks old, all of the puppies were removed from the field and tested over the following 2 weeks.

Five puppies acted as ‘controls’ and remained in the field with their mother the entire time. The result of not being socialized was terrible. 

The scientists said, 
“unless socialization occurred before 14 weeks of age, withdrawal reactions from humans became so intense that normal relationships could not thereafter be established.” 
One of the control puppies was “petted and fondled” every day for the following three months, and did not really become more sociable in that time. 

It’s interesting to look back at this article because science – and dog training – has improved since it was conducted. Full details of the socialization are not given and the numbers of puppies are small. These days proper desensitization and counter-conditioning would be used for a fearful pup (subjecting it to unwanted petting could make it even more fearful). 

Nonetheless, these results tell us a lot. They tie in with other studies of the time, including raising Chihuahua puppies with cats (Fox, 1969). They relate to what is known about sensitive periods in other animals (including humans). But now that we know how harmful lack of socialization is, the study would not be repeated today.

Research into the socialization of puppies is ongoing. Recently, scientists discovered that in some breeds, the sensitive period for socialization may end sooner (Morrow et al 2015). This means that socialization must begin at the breeder, before you even bring your puppy home.


What does socialization of puppies mean?


Socializing puppies is about more than just people. It involves pleasant experiences with unknown dogs, surfaces, places, anything that puppy might come across as an adult. Socialization should start in the home of the breeder, or the foster home if it is a rescue (puppies are available from rescues too). If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder or rescue what they do to socialize puppies, and be prepared to do lots of socialization yourself.

In her book Culture Clash Jean Donaldson says,
“it’s advisable to go way overboard covering all the bases before the socialization window closes, especially for spookier breeds or individuals. This means exposing the puppy to as wide a social sphere as possible in terms of human age groups, sexes, sizes, shapes, colours and gaits. The experiences should be positive (play, treats, nothing scary) and include a wide variety of patting, handling and movement by the humans. 
"It also means getting the puppy used to anything it may have to encounter in later life, such as car rides, veterinary exams (make the first one or two fun rather than scary), cats, traffic, soccer games, elevators and pointy sticks.”

There is a balance to be struck in socializing puppies to prevent future behaviour problems and protecting them from disease when they are not fully immunized. This is something to discuss with your vet. The AVSAB position statement on puppy socialization says, 
“Because the first three months are the period when sociability outweighs fear, this is the primary window of opportunity for puppies to adapt to new people, animals and experiences. Incomplete or improper socialization during this important time can increase the risk of behavioural problems later in life including fear, avoidance, and/or aggression. Behavioural problems are the greatest threat to the owner-dog bond… Behavioural issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age.”

“The importance of a critical period for socialization is hard to overestimate,” says Jean Donaldson. It’s important to get it right. And because dog training is an unlicensed profession, this means you should choose your puppy’s dog trainer with care.

What are your tips for socializing a puppy?


References
Donaldson, Jean (2005, 2nd edition). Culture Clash: A revolutionary new way of understanding the relationship between humans and domestic dogs. Dogwise.
Fox, M. (1969). Behavioral Effects of Rearing Dogs With Cats During the 'Critical Period of Socialization' Behaviour, 35 (3), 273-280 DOI: 10.1163/156853969X00242  
Freedman, D., King, J., & Elliot, O. (1961). Critical Period in the Social Development of Dogs Science, 133 (3457), 1016-1017 DOI: 10.1126/science.133.3457.1016
Morrow, M., Ottobre, J., Ottobre, A., Neville, P., St-Pierre, N., Dreschel, N., & Pate, J. (2015). Breed-dependent differences in the onset of fear-related avoidance behavior in puppies Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 10 (4), 286-294 DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2015.03.002
Pfaffenberger, C., & Scott, J. (1959). The Relationship between Delayed Socialization and Trainability in Guide Dogs The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 95 (1), 145-155 DOI: 10.1080/00221325.1959.10534251  
Scott, J., & Marston, M. (1950). Critical Periods Affecting the Development of Normal and Mal-Adjustive Social Behavior of Puppies The Pedagogical Seminary and Journal of Genetic Psychology, 77 (1), 25-60 DOI: 10.1080/08856559.1950.10533536

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

What Do Young Children Learn From Pets?

Is a better understanding of biology something children can learn from dogs and cats?


A young child pets a cat outside in summer


Young children are very interested in animals. One study even found children aged 11 – 40 months would prefer to look at an animal behind a glass screen (even if the animal is fast asleep) rather than play with a toy (LoBue et al 2013). Now researchers are asking whether this interest in animals means that children with a cat or dog know more about biology than those without.

The study, by Megan Geerdts (University of North Carolina at Greensboro) et al, was in two parts. First of all, the scientists needed to know how preschool children actually interact with cats and dogs. Although this is observed by parents every day, it seems it hasn’t been recorded in enough detail for science. So the researchers observed 24 preschool children in a free-play session with their pet, and asked their parents to complete a questionnaire about their child’s daily experiences with the animal. Then, in the second part, they tested 3 – 5 year old children with and without a pet on their knowledge of biological concepts.

First of all, the children’s interactions with pets were mostly social. They were not really involved in taking care of the animals, which is not surprising given their age. A study of older children (age 7 – 13 years old) by Muldoon et al found they also mostly had social interactions with their pets, and left the care-taking to their parents. 

Children typically interacted in reciprocal ways that would elicit a response from the animal, such as holding out a hand to be sniffed, trying to engage in play or giving the pet a command. The questionnaires completed by parents confirmed that interactions were social, and children were not involved in care-taking behaviour. They interacted with cats and dogs in the same way, but girls interacted more than boys.


A young girl hugs her pet cat


So, if a young child’s experiences of spending time with a pet are of being sociable with it, would you expect them to learn much about biology from this? It’s not like they are dealing with the biological end of things – feeding, grooming, cleaning, making sure the animal has peed and pooped. And yet they did show a better understanding of biological concepts.

The way this was tested is pretty neat. If you were to ask something like “People have a heart. Does your cat have a heart?” you couldn’t rule out the possibility that some children might have learned about hearts at their pre-school or playgroup and have existing prior knowledge. So the researchers used a made-up word that none of the children would have come across before.

96 children aged 2 - 6 took part in the second study. One group were told, “People have andro inside them. Andro is round and green and looks like this!” The child and experimenter drew a picture of andro together. Then, the child was asked whether various animals, plants and inanimate objects also had andro inside. Another group did the same thing, but instead of being told that people have andro, they were told that dogs have andro.

Then the children were asked questions about their own cat or dog (if they had one) and the experimenter’s cat or dog (if they didn’t). The questions were about whether or not the cat or dog had various psychological and physical properties, including emotions, sleep, food, and parents.

A control group of adults did the same study, but they skipped drawing a picture of andro. Adults were equally likely to relate properties from humans to dogs as vice versa (i.e. if a dog has andro, so does a human). 

Half of the children had a cat or dog, and just like in the first study, their parents said their interactions were mostly social. Amongst 3 year old and 5 year olds without pets, they were more likely to relate properties from humans to dogs, rather than vice versa. If 5 year olds had pets, they were more likely to relate properties from dogs to humans than their peers without pets.

Five year olds and adults were more likely to say properties applied to other living things rather than to plants and inanimate objects. Three year olds tended to apply things equally to plants and inanimate objects. Having a pet made no difference to these results.

But in both age groups, if a child had a pet, they were more likely to say animals had biological properties compared to children that don’t have a pet. This effect was not found for psychological properties.

This study shows that children who have social experience with pets are less likely to be anthropocentric in their reasoning. The scientists say, “our findings help to support the hypothesis that treating animals as social creatures may help children to analogically understand animals as more similar to humans in other ways, including biologically.”

What do you think children learn from their pets?


Reference
LoBue, V., Bloom Pickard, M., Sherman, K., Axford, C., & DeLoache, J. (2013). Young children's interest in live animals British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 31 (1), 57-69 DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-835X.2012.02078.x  
Muldoon, J., Williams, J., & Lawrence, A. (2014). 'Mum cleaned it and I just played with it': Children's perceptions of their roles and responsibilities in the care of family pets Childhood DOI: 10.1177/0907568214524457  
Geerdts, M., Van de Walle, G., & LoBue, V. (2015). Daily animal exposure and children’s biological concepts Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 130, 132-146 DOI: 10.1016/j.jecp.2014.10.001
Photos: elista (top) / Patricia Marks / both Shutterstock.com

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Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Why Do People Take Part in Dog Sports?

Is it for themselves, for the dog - or a bit of both?

A poodle jumps in agility

People can participate in dog sports (like agility) at any level, from local classes to national and international events. A study by Joey Farrell (Lakehead University) et al investigates what motivates people to take part in dog sports, and why some compete much more often than others. 

They recruited people at events where at least two different sports were taking place, from a list of agility, rally, field, obedience and conformation (showing pedigree dogs). Although there is a chance to win titles, it turns out this isn’t the main reason why people take part. Feeling immersed in the activity and the chance to meet like-minded people are both important to competitors.

The scientists say that “people who are frequently active in dog sports tend to participate with a high level of self-determined motivation, which is related to personal satisfaction. Open-ended survey data reinforced, however, that individuals begin and remain engaged in dog sports for a variety of reasons, including enjoyment of learning or training with dogs, as well as externally driven factors (e.g., prizes and titles).” 

Some of the participants took part in more than 12 events per year. In comparison to those who participated less than 6 times a year, they scored higher on a scale that measures intrinsic motivation to experience. This is typified by statements such as ‘because I like the feeling of being totally immersed in the activity.’ They also scored higher on a scale that measures a type of extrinsic motivation, typified by the statement ‘because in my opinion, it is one of the best ways to meet other people.’

Four other types of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation did not vary between the two groups.  Intrinsic motivation relates to one’s own internal desires and interests. Extrinsic motivation refers to external factors such as rewards and titles. None of the participants scored highly on lack of motivation, which is not surprising.

The statistical results were supported by comments from participants, who wrote about the special bond that develops with the dogs, and how much they like meeting other people who feel the same way about dogs as they do. 

For example, one person said, “when you work with the dog as a team in a sport, you and the dog develop a very special relationship.” Another said, “I like the connection that develops with a dog during training and I like being around people who feel as I do about dogs. It enables me to connect with people from all walks of life.” 

The 85 participants completed a survey that included the Sports Motivation Scale, a set of questions that investigates intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to take part in sports. It was adapted to apply to dog sports. Open-ended questions were included that gave people chance to write about why they started the sport, why they continue and what they enjoy about it.

Just over three-quarters of the participants were in the age range 45-74, and 80% were female. They didn’t stick to just one sport, as most of them participated in 2 – 5 sports. Obedience was the most popular, with 85% taking part, followed by conformation (69%) and agility (64%). So although the sample is not representative it does include people who are keen competitors.

The researchers acknowledge that other factors, such as available time and ability to travel to events, also influence their participation in these sports. Just as with dog walking, since some of these events involve burning calories (for both the human and the dog), a better understanding of why people participate will help encourage dog owners to have more active lifestyles.

What joint activities do you do with your dog?


Reference
Farrell, J., Hope, A., Hulstein, R., & Spaulding, S. (2015). Dog-Sport Competitors: What Motivates People to Participate with Their Dogs in Sporting Events? Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 28 (1), 61-71 DOI: 10.2752/089279315X1412935072201

Photo: Reddogs / Shutterstock.com 
Companion Animal Psychology is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Unanticipated Animals: What Happens When Pets Appear in Research Interviews?

A new study finds pets are often written out of research reports.

Pets cats and dogs should be considered in health research

We all know the saying “never work with children or animals”. Normally it applies to actors. But what happens when a researcher goes to interview someone and a pet is there too? A new paper by Sara Ryan and Sue Ziebland (University of Oxford) says that health scientists are not paying enough attention to the importance of pets in people’s lives.

Their analysis shows that pets are often ignored or are seen as an interruption in interviews. In one case, someone talks about how their diagnosis with a serious health condition was difficult, especially because they did not feel the doctor listened to them as a patient. The researcher’s response: “Can I shut that cat up?” (Fortunately the video of the interview showed this was a friendly interaction).

Although this is the most striking example given in the paper, Ryan and Ziebland say that in general the researchers did not ask about the role of companion animals. Even when people talked about their pets, it was often not followed up within the interview. 

They say, “The topic of pets was almost exclusively raised in the interview by the participants rather than the researchers. Variously, pets were physically removed from the interview setting (by the participant, another member of the household or even the researcher themselves), written out of the verbatim transcript with an interruption label, and positioned as irrelevant or not interesting through a lack of engagement by researchers, who largely failed to prompt participants about the role pets played in their lives. The pets were rarely mentioned in the analysis and initial writing up of findings.”

This is despite the fact that one advantage of qualitative interview research is the opportunity to follow up things the participant mentions. This suggests the researchers had not considered the role of pets when designing their interviews, and did not realize during the interview that it was something worth further questioning, although some exceptions are included.

Dog provides comfort and emotional support
In some cases, pets played a central role in people’s accounts. For example, one woman described noticing her mother’s dementia first when she realized the dog was no longer being taken care of. In another case, the dog’s expectations of someone’s presence are discussed in relation to the loss of a parent. Pets are mentioned in ways that show they are part of the family, as when having to ensure their safety before taking someone to casualty, or how the pet helps in coping with loneliness after a loss. 

When one person’s partner was in hospital for an operation, they said, “but I came home and took the dog for a walk and we had a chat! And we talked this thing through.”

People are not anthropomorphizing the animals, according to Ryan and Ziebland. They say, “the narratives show more of a levelling between the status of the pet and person that is often not recognized or acknowledged in popular discourses around animal ownership.”

The paper is based on what’s called a ‘secondary analysis’ of an existing dataset of interviews. They looked at 231 interviews with people with autism, Parkinson’s disease, stroke or heart failure, and carers of people with dementia or multiple sclerosis. The interviews were all conducted as part of research into aspects of those conditions – and notably the focus was not on pets. 

The transcripts were studied for places where pets appeared. Anywhere that an ‘interruption’ was listed they went to the audio recordings to see what happened. In some cases the interruption was a pet, in which case they transcribed this in full. Then they analyzed all the places where pets were mentioned or made a noise.

Some of the interruptions are distractions from the research process, as when a participant stopped to go and get some biscuits for the dog, or the researcher tries to interact with a dog which is then frightened. At other times, references were made to important roles the pet plays as companion, confidant, and support. 

We shouldn’t get too hung up on the one researcher who was too distracted by a cat to listen to the participant in that moment. The real issue is that across the whole set of interviews, pets were often ignored even when they were relevant to the topic of the study. It is a reminder that health researchers should be aware that pets might come up in ways relevant to the research and that weren’t anticipated.

Despite the omission of pets from the original published papers, in other ways this study shows qualitative research at its best. Not only were the written transcripts available, but they could be checked against the audio from the interviews, and the original researchers made themselves available to answer questions, such as when more context was needed. In other words, the audit trail worked exactly as it is supposed to, and the secondary analysis is excellent.

The accounts highlighted in this paper show people talking about their pets as family members, in a manner that recognizes that others may not see animals in the same way. Although the paper focuses on health research, this is a topic with wider relevance to the role of animals in society.

Do you consider your pets to be family members?

Reference 
Ryan, S., & Ziebland, S. (2015). On interviewing people with pets: reflections from qualitative research on people with long-term conditions Sociology of Health & Illness, 37 (1), 67-80 DOI: 10.1111/1467-9566.12176 

Photo: Dirk Ott (top) / Creatista (bottom) / Shutterstock.com
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Sunday, 1 February 2015

A Conversation with Mia Cobb

On Wednesday we covered Mia Cobb’s new paper on working dogs and canine performance science. Mia's research has the potential to have a big impact on the lives of working dogs. She kindly agreed to talk to us about working dogs, animal welfare, and her new puppy Rudy.



How can we improve the training of working dogs?

One of the key things that would help to improve the success rates of trainee working dogs would be wider recognition of the sum of all the parts that make a successful working dog. It’s not just the training methods used, it’s not just the genetics, it’s also the socialization and puppy raising process, the diet and health management, it’s the way dogs are housed, the human and canine company they keep, the opportunities they have for rest and play as well as learn, that is relevant to a successful working dog. 

It can be easy for both scientists and practitioners to focus on just one element of the process – like breeding for sound health, or training for continued attention – which is important, but we all benefit enormously from stepping back and acknowledging the relevance of all the other pieces of the puzzle that contribute to successful working dogs. More directly, I think that improving our understanding of the relationship between training methods, canine stress, welfare, learning and performance with further research will help us understand what is most important for the best training and performance outcomes in dogs.

Canine performance science, working dog welfare & performance
Mia with Caleb in 2014 (also top). Photos: Mel Travis
Scientists can help by making their findings easily accessible to practitioners, through blogs (like Do You Believe in Dog?) and social media. Practitioners, people such as trainers and breeders, can also commit to staying abreast of the latest research by following research-sharing blogs (like Companion Animal Psychology and Do You Believe in Dog?), attending relevant conferences to share their own great ideas, experiences and practices with others, and making the most of online learning opportunities (like SPARCS or E-training for dogs).

Close collaboration between practitioners and scientists will pave the way to best practice training of working dogs. Combining the theoretical with the practical and having a fast-track opportunity for feedback between them is critical. Always being open to learning more, asking ourselves hard questions and considering new ways to approach old challenges will definitely help!

What skills or qualities should we look for in the people who train them?

Previous research has shown us that good dog trainers need to be consistent in their behaviour, engage well with dogs (keep their attention) and optimise the timing of cues and rewards. There’s more and more research emerging that shows us the attachment between a dog and their trainer/handler is important to dogs – they’re not just a tool anyone can take off the shelf and operate with the same level of proficiency. This can have real-world implications for the way working dog programs are run – one dog may have three handlers, but not work to the same standard for each one of them. This reduced performance may or may not be acceptable, depending on the work the dog is used for.

Story on working dogs & canine science. Photo: Mel Travis
Rudy. Photo: Mel Travis
A relevant and exciting new area of research that’s being tackled by the University of Sydney in Australia under the guidance of well-respected Professor Paul McGreevy is why are some people just better with dogs? What are the skills of successful ‘dogmanship’ that allows some people to communicate and read dogs so well and others not? Paul’s research group are trying to characterise the personality profiles, training techniques and other traits of successful trainers and how these traits relate to dogs’ arousal and emotions. I think their findings will be very interesting and relevant to working dog groups looking at new (human!) training recruits.

How did you get interested in working dogs?

After I graduated with my Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Zoology, I worked and travelled overseas for a year before working in Melbourne’s largest animal shelter which instilled in me the importance of animal welfare and the relevance of people’s role as caretakers. A couple of years later, I moved to working at Australia’s largest guide dog [seeing eye dog] facility. My role with Guide Dogs was as the Training Kennel and Veterinary Clinic Manager. I saw dogs not coping so well with the transition to kennel life after their puppy raising period and wondered if a structured enrichment program could help them to manage the transition better and achieve improved outcomes in their assessment and training tasks.

Because of my education, I turned to the scientific literature seeking an answer to the question, but while different elements of enrichment had been valued (like music, smells, toys, etc.), no one had tested a structured program in a real-life setting. So, with my employer’s support, I sought supervision through my former university, designed an experiment and started my PhD work part-time, while I was working full time. From there I got involved in the federal government’s Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS), leading the working group responsible for working dog welfare.

Some of my co-authors on this paper and I conducted some national benchmarking and strategic planning projects for the federal government that gave us better insight into other farm, security, government, assistance and racing dog welfare issues. I guess my education, work experience and personal interests all aligned, resulting in me wanting to better understand the links between working dog welfare and performance.

In your paper, you talk about how public perceptions will increasingly influence the treatment of working dogs. What concerns do you think the general public has about working dog welfare?

Photo of Mia and Rudy by Mel Travis What About Charlie?
Mia, Rudy & Melbourne. Photo: Mel Travis
Something that surprises me is how many people DON’T think about working dog welfare! Nearly everyone knows they exist – you’ve seen a guide dog [seeing eye dog] helping someone to walk safely down the street, or a sniffer dog at the airport and you know of racing greyhounds and livestock herding dogs. We’ve seen police dogs at music festivals sniffing out drugs on TV and also the military dogs finding explosives in war zones. But not many people actually stop to think about how they are bred, raised, trained, how they live and what happens to the dogs when they aren’t suitable or retired from work. When I speak to people and they start asking these questions, the answers often concern them.

Another part of my PhD research (currently in prep for publication) asked people how important the welfare of dogs is to them. An overwhelming majority (>90%) of respondents from around the world said it was important or very important to them. It wasn’t that long ago that people didn’t know or care about how their meat was raised, yet we’ve seen a recent trend to free range systems over factory farming because of public opinion. In Australia, we’ve had an entire export industry put on hold because a television program aired a damning expose showing that exported cattle were treated inhumanely.

One of the main points of the recent manuscript is to highlight that it’s important to the industry’s future to identify and be pro-active in overcoming any real and perceived animal welfare issues now, because it’s inevitable that the public’s focus will soon shift from the welfare of livestock animals in circuses and zoos, to other utility animal roles, like working dogs. Certainly in my personal conversations, the question that gets people most concerned is what happens to the unsuccessful dogs? Because generally more than half of the dogs bred for working and sporting roles aren’t fast enough or successful enough in training.

In 2013, you co-founded the Australian Working Dog Alliance. What does the Alliance do?

Canine scientist & her dog, photo by Mel Travis What About Charlie?
Photo: Mia and Rudy. Photo: Mel Travis
The Alliance has been set up to help the working dog industry. After we conducted the benchmarking and strategic planning projects for the federal government, the AAWS was sadly disbanded due to a change of government. Rather than lose all the good will we had raised from industry stakeholders (not just breeders and trainers of working and sporting dogs, but kennel facility employees, puppy raisers, veterinarians, canine scientists, working dog handlers, representatives from state government who are directly involved in legislating animal welfare requirements and animal welfare agencies advocating for social change), several of the working group members decided to set up the Alliance to keep driving the  initiatives of the strategic Australian Working Dog Industry Action Plan.

Its aim is to help connect all the industry stakeholders to work more effectively together towards better welfare and performance in their dogs. Help researchers gain better access to working dog populations to study, help industry have a voice to ask researchers to answer the questions they most want answered and help all those experienced practitioners share what is working well for them.

There are so many great things happening within our working dog industry, the Alliance wants to help share those good bits around, so everyone – the dogs and the people they work to assist – can benefit.

Your passion for communicating canine science comes across in your blog Do You Believe in Dog? (with Julie Hecht) and in the Human Animal Science podcast series. What do you enjoy most about this?

Helping the science get out in the world! I have enormous respect for my scientific colleagues and they do great work that I feel enthusiastic about. It’s a privilege to help their work get out of the peer-reviewed journals (where only other scientists can read them) and into the laps of everyone! Science has so much relevance in every walk of life, even if we don’t always realise it. I also think that by sharing the findings of my colleagues with the general public, we can help everyone recognise that science is interesting and useful, done by real people who want to answer questions that you have thought about too – not just the stereotypical lab coated, test tube wielding ‘scientist’ you might have seen in awkward science stock photography!

Tell me about the animals in your life.

Cat belonging to Mia Cobb, canine scientist & anthrozoologist
Gidget
I currently share my home with my husband, our pre-school aged daughter, two cats (Tonto, who was found as a kitten in a cardboard box in a car park when I worked at the RSPCA, and Gidget, who was retired from her role as resident kennel cat at Guide Dogs Victoria one year ago after beheading a highly-venomous tiger snake. She came to us for intensive foster care because the snake bit her during their showdown – but once she recovered, she never left!) and we’ve recently welcomed a five month old shelter puppy Staghound into our lives, who revels in the name of Rudy and has THE  most incredible set of ears.

Thank you Mia!

Bio: Mia Cobb is a canine researcher and science communicator. She holds a BSc (Hons) with a focus on animal behaviour from Monash University and is nearing completion of a PhD researching the welfare, enrichment and work performance of kennelled working dogs as part of the Anthrozoology Research Group in Australia. Cobb’s work in various animal industry contexts, including over a decade in shelter and working dog facilities, has given her unique insight to a range of human-animal interactions and animal welfare issues. Cobb regularly attends and presents at scientific conferences, professional development workshops and public information/education sessions. She believes in helping scientific research escape academic journals and founded the popular canine science blog, Do You Believe in Dog? with fellow researcher, Julie Hecht, in 2012. She is also co-host of the Human Animal Science podcast series.Twitter https://twitter.com/DoUBelieveInDog Web: www.doyoubelieveindog.com

Reference
Cobb, M., Branson, N., McGreevy, P., Lill, A., & Bennett, P. (2015). The advent of canine performance science: Offering a sustainable future for working dogs Behavioural Processes, 110, 96-104 DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2014.10.012  
Photo Credits: Photo of Gidget, Mia Cobb; all other photos, Mel Travis, What About Charlie? Photography 
Companion Animal Psychology is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com, Amazon.ca and Amazon.co.uk. (privacy policy)

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