Sunday, 21 May 2017

Companion Animal Psychology News May 2017

This month's news and favourite stories from around the web.

A dog and cat peruse the latest news about pets

Some of my favourites from around the web this month…

An anonymous article from the owner of a reactive dog that resonated with many people. "It is painful for me to have to portray my dog as some kind of devil dog to you to get my point across. He really is not; he is funny, intelligent, and the most loving dog I know."

A thoughtful post from Ken Ramirez on the use of clickers in dog training. "The best trainers will keep asking questions to better understand the techniques we use and to understand the science underlying each procedure."

Ouch! Acquired bite inhibition and puppies by Kristi Benson at the Academy for Dog Trainers. "Luckily, most dogs have good—or at least good enough—ABI. However, dog trainers and veterinarians do occasionally get a call about a dog with poor ABI, and it is always heartbreaking."

Why do dogs like to roll in smelly things? By Mary Jo Dilonardo, with interestingly-different opinions from Dr. Stanley Coren, Dr. Patricia McConnell, Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, and Dr. Marty Becker.

Puppy play: why it matters by Sylvie Martin at Crosspaws. "They throw themselves on top of one another and on the floor, they paddle and punch with their paws, they hang off each other’s ears with their teeth, they chase and invite being chased, they bow, bowl and bounce all over the place. In short, they seem to be having a ball."

Dr. Anne Fawcett on re-directed aggression in cats. "Last night I was the victim of an attack, from a household member." 

Why do most animal shelter workers burn out? By Dr. Hal Herzog. "Like other people who are “called” to a career, all the shelter workers in the study entered the field with a sense of deep moral, social, and personal commitment. But caring for animals can have its costs."

Pets in the news

Dubai goes to the dogs. Expats abandoning pets when they finish work placements.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool looked at whether feeding a raw diet to dogs poses a risk to human health. “t was found that dogs fed diets containing raw-meat were more likely to carry Salmonella species and antibiotic resistant E. coli compared to the control group (cooked diets), including E. coli resistant to multiple types of antibiotics”

How this teen and his dog in Nova Scotia saved the life of an 89 year old man.

Why the cats on one British island have lost their tails on Manx cats. See also International Cat Care on Manx cats and the problems this genetic defect causes.

Giving a speech can by terrifying, but these dogs are here to help… Karin Brulliard on the “audience dogs” at the Kogod School of Business.

Could Omar be the world’s longest cat?

The mystery of the wasting house-cats on the rise of feline hyperthyroidism.

Upcoming Events

But my dog isn’t food motivated. PPG webinar by Kathy Sdao Wednesday June 28th 2017.

Feline foraging toys: How to implement, motivate, and stage the difficulty level by Ingrid Johnson for Pet Professional Guild. Weds 26th July 4pm EDT.

Photos, Videos and Podcasts

Dr. Susan Hazel on canine behaviour. “In general, we’re not good at reading dog, but dogs are geniuses at reading us.”

In this short clip from a new BBC series, Dr. Carri Westgarth explains the signs to look for that mean a dog is anxious.

Why humans have pets and chimps don’t. Fascinating talk by Dr. Hal Herzog

Here at Companion Animal Psychology

This month saw the launch of the Companion Animal Psychology t-shirt. Wearable art for animal lovers, it is available in various colours and styles. 100% of the proceeds go to the BC SPCA Maple Ridge.

The cat loves dog t-shirt is available in pink and other colours

This is a cause that means a lot to me, and I thank you for your support. Let me know which colour you pick!

The t-shirt shown above is the Gildan women's relaxed tee in pale pink.

The month’s book for the Companion Animal Psychology Book Club is Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw (titled in Defence of Dogs in the UK and Australia).

This month saw a thoughtful guest post from Kristi Benson on the ways dogs are like us and not like us. Thank you, Kristi!

My post on a new study that found people mistakenly think anxious dogs are relaxed in interactions with babies hit a nerve and is already my second-most popular post of all time. I also wrote about the potential causes of problems in pet store puppies.

I’m taking a week off blogging to catch up on other things. See you soon!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Companion Animal Psychology Tee Raises Funds for Charity

Wearable artwork. All proceeds to the BC SPCA Maple Ridge.

The print shows a cat greeting a dog; 100% proceeds to charity

I am very excited to launch the Companion Animal Psychology t-shirt today. Isn’t the design gorgeous?!

100% of the proceeds will go to the BC SPCA Maple Ridge. This is the shelter where I have been a regular volunteer for the last 5 years. The funds raised will make a tremendous difference to the dogs, cats and small animals.

100% proceeds to the BC SPCA Maple Ridge

Jennifer Stack, shelter manager, says “Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, and possibly purchasing a print to help support the animals at the Maple Ridge BC SPCA.

“Our shelter has seen a real change in what animals come into the shelter. Years ago there were lots of puppies and kittens pushing us past capacity and having to develop and rely on a solid foster program for the overflow of these young animals. Through working with veterinarians with education on spaying and neutering pets before 6 months, as well as working with the municipalities to develop programs and solidify grants for low cost spay and neuter programs, and through education and financial programs we have seen that the sheer numbers of puppies and kittens has diminished significantly.

“What we are seeing now, is a lot of middle-aged animals that have chronic conditions such as skin issues, or re occurring ear infections, urinary issues and such. Where owners are frustrated and no longer feel they can go on dealing with this, or are not able to financially. Another common one is major dental disease in both cats and dogs. The owners are not able to afford the fees for the required dental care and therefore surrender the animal.

“Due to these cases where there is major dental work or a lot of diagnostic work-up to identify the problem and then do treatment our medical costs are sky high. The proceeds from your purchase will help our animals in need.

“On behalf on the animals, volunteers, and staff, we thank you ever so much. Every dollar helps and we are so very grateful for your generosity.”

The beautiful artwork is by Lili Chin and is loosely based on two of my own animals that I adopted from the shelter.

The t-shirt is available in round-neck and v-neck in both women’s and men’s styles, and a range of colours. The hoodie comes as a pullover style or as a zip hoodie with a back print.

Thank you for your purchase, and please share with your friends too.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Potential Causes of Problems in Pet Store Puppies

A review of the research finds pet store puppies are more likely to be aggressive as adults, and considers the reasons why.

A sad cute puppy looks up at the camera with big eyes
Amy Laurel Photography (Shutterstock)

Several studies have found puppies that come from commercial breeding establishments (CBEs) have a higher rate of behaviour problems than those from responsible breeders. A new review by Frank McMillan looks at the evidence from seven published studies, and then turns to the literature on puppy development to consider the possible causes of these problems.

Essentially, many different stresses at a time when puppies really need to have positive experiences are the likely culprit.

Puppies need to have lots of positive experiences during the socialization period (from 3 until 12 – 16 weeks) to help prepare them for later life. If they are in a commercial breeding establishment, it is not preparing them for life in a family home. But puppies from commercial breeders are also exposed to other sources of stress that may negatively impact their behaviour.

The main behaviour problem associated with pet store puppies is aggression, whether to family members, strangers, or other dogs.

McMillan writes,
“the data from 7 published studies using surveys of dog owners suggest that dogs sold through pet stores and/or born in high-volume CBEs have an increased frequency of a variety of undesirable adulthood behaviors compared with dogs from other sources, particularly noncommercial breeders. The most common finding (6 of 7 reports, or 86%) was an increase in aggression directed toward the dog’s owners and family members, unfamiliar people (strangers), and other dogs.” 

The solution, McMillan says, is to reduce stress at all early stages of the puppy’s life, including the prenatal stage (reducing the mother’s stress levels).

In addition, McMillan says, all puppies should have a socialization program:
“A high quality social and stimulus exposure program should be instituted for puppies beginning no later than 3 weeks of age and continue through the end of the socialization period during which the puppy will pass through the hands of the breeder, the pet store staff, and the new owner at 12-16 weeks.” 

What’s wrong with puppies from pet stores? 

Puppies sold in pet stores are typically sourced via a broker, and come from large commercial breeding establishments. They are often referred to as puppy mills or puppy farms, because they are like battery farms for dogs.

A cute little puppy feeling sleepy by a flower pot
Talya Photo (Shutterstock)

Commercial breeding establishments vary a lot, and while some are clean, others are dire.

McMillan writes,
“CBEs are characterized by large numbers of dogs, maximal efficiency of space by housing dogs in or near the minimum space permitted by law, breeding dogs spending their entire reproductive lives in their cages or runs, group and solitary housing, dogs rarely if ever permitted out of their primary enclosures for exercise or play, no toys or enrichment, minimal-to-no positive human interaction/companionship, and inadequate health care.  
Commonly reported conditions present in many but not all CBEs include cage flooring made of wire mesh, accumulation of feces, ammonia odor, no windows and poor ventilation, inadequate protection from inclement weather and temperature extremes, insufficient or contaminated water and spoiled food, serious untreated medical conditions (e.g., advanced dental disease), extensive matting of hair, commonness and apparency of stereotypical behaviors, evidence of starvation, and presence of deceased adult dogs and puppies.” 

Sources of stress for puppies from puppy mills 

The paper considers the different possible sources of stress for a puppy from a CBE, as stress in the early stages of a puppy’s life may be linked to later behaviour problems.


Some behaviour problems, including fear of loud noises, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and dog-dog aggression, seem to have a genetic component. But this is typically not taken into account when breeding dogs. McMillan reviewed the trade magazine for most commercial breeders and found no references to breeding for temperament in the last ten years.

Prenatal Stress 

Stress during pregnancy is linked to several problems in the offspring, including fear and a reduced ability to cope with stress. Although the research on this has not looked at dogs, there is no reason to think dogs would be different from other species.

Early Life Experiences 

 Adverse experiences in early life can have a profound impact later on. McMillan says stress during the first few weeks of life can have long-term effects, including stress during the neonatal period (up to 12 days). Although much of this research is on other species (including humans), there are some studies on dogs, including Scott and Fuller’s classic work.

The Socialization Period 

The sensitive period for socialization starts at 3 weeks and continues until about 12 weeks of age (some sources say 16 weeks).

During the sensitive period, puppies should have happy, positive experiences with anything they might encounter later in life. For example, all kinds of people, children, other dogs, cats, horses, other animals, different kinds of sounds from dishwashers to vacuums to loud noises (N.B. at a level they are comfortable with – never terrify a puppy). If you think about all the things a dog might encounter, it’s a long list.

If a puppy is in a commercial breeding establishment or pet store, they obviously have a limited environment that is very different from a home. For example, McMilllan says lack of physical contact with the puppy’s mum and fellow puppies, as well as with humans, could be responsible for the finding that puppies from pet stores are more likely to be sensitive to being touched.

Weaning and being separated from mom 

Puppies in CBEs are suddenly taken away from their mother, instead of a gradual weaning process. McMillan says this separation is stressful in itself, may affect the puppy’s ability to cope with other stresses, and also removes the puppy from an environment in which a lot of early learning takes place. For example, play with other puppies teaches bite inhibition and how to interact with other dogs.

Transport and being in the pet store 

Being transported from the CBE, either to a pet store or direct to the person who is buying the puppy, is probably also stressful. Being in a pet store may be a frightening experience for a puppy, including handling by staff and the presence of lots of unfamiliar people and other animals. If the puppy does not sell quickly and spends a long time there, this may make things worse.

The importance of education 

Finally, McMillan points out there are no standards for the information given to puppy buyers. A responsible breeder will want to educate prospective owners on how to care for their puppy, whereas pet store staff may not have the knowledge or experience to do this. A couple of studies have found educating people on how to care for their new pet makes a difference to behaviour in the longer term, so this may be another factor that disadvantages puppies from pet stores.

McMillan does not look at the possibility that people who get puppies from responsible breeders may be more knowledgeable about dogs and canine behaviour. He acknowledges lack of information about differences between homes is a possible limitation of the paper. It’s worth noting that one of the studies included in his review (Pirrone et al 2016) did not find any effect of owner factors, but more research is needed.


In sum, this paper finds research consistently reports puppies from pet stores / CBEs have more behaviour problems as adult dogs, particularly in the form of aggression.

Since the studies are correlational, they do not prove causation. However, the many additional stressors pet store puppies face provide a plausible explanation for the development of problem behaviours.

What this means to you 

Of course, some readers will right now have a dog on their settee who originally came from a commercial breeding establishment. If so, hopefully it has worked out well; remember these studies only show an increased risk, so problematic outcomes are not guaranteed. In addition, even when dogs do have issues as a result, as with dogs that were previously used for breeding, they can still be loving pets. If you need help with a behaviour problem, seek help from a qualified dog trainer.

Obviously, it's best to get puppies from a responsible breeder, or from a shelter that looks after the puppies in a foster home.

Common advice on how to choose a puppy includes that you see the puppy suckling from the mom. One study not included in this review found it’s better if people see both the mum and dad before purchasing a puppy (Westgarth, Reevell and Barclay 2012). If people had not seen either parent prior to purchase, the adult dog was 3.8 times more likely to have been referred for a behaviour problem.

Puppies sold over the internet typically come from CBEs. One warning sign is if the seller agrees to meet you in a convenient location such as a parking lot, rather than letting you go to see the puppy in their home.

Incidentally, older advice used to be just to see the mom, but a BBC documentary in the UK found some puppy sellers get round this by borrowing a female dog of the same breed to be a fake mom. More recent advice includes seeing the puppies actually suckling from the mom, so unscrupulous breeders can’t get away with saying mom is resting in the other room.

This shows just how difficult it can be for people to know if they are avoiding a puppy from a mill or not. If you’re getting a puppy, check the advice in your area in order to be up-to-date on what to look for, and remember that shelters also sometimes have puppies.

It’s possible the exact length of the socialization period varies with breed (Morrow et al 2015), making the puppies early weeks even more important.

Whenever you get a puppy, remember to ask “What are you doing to socialize the puppy?” If you don’t get a good answer, keep looking. And then ensure your puppy has lots of lovely, happy experiences with anything they might meet later in life.

You might find my posts on how to choose a puppy and why you need to socialize your puppy useful.

This paper shows how important it is both to reduce stress for puppies (and their moms), and to ensure good socialization experiences.

Learning More 

McMillan’s paper is open access so you can read it in full.

If you want to know more about the importance of socialization and the problems of stress during puppy development, I recommend chapter 5 in John Bradshaw’s book Dog Sense (which happens to be the Companion Animal Psychology Book Club choice for this month), and chapter 6 in James Serpell’s edited volume The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behavior and Interactions with People (2nd edition).

If you are interested in the effects of stress in early life on people, you might like Bruce Perry's book, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog.

I have previously covered several of the studies included in McMillan’s review (including this one, and this survey on aggression in dogs). You might also like my posts on why people choose certain dogs and the role of emotions in people's choice of four small dog breeds. Stay up to date and subscribe to Companion Animal Psychology.

McMillan, F. D. (2017). Behavioral and psychological outcomes for dogs sold as puppies through pet stores and/or born in commercial breeding establishments: Current knowledge and putative causes. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research.
Morrow, M., Ottobre, J., Ottobre, A., Neville, P., St-Pierre, N., Dreschel, N., & Pate, J. L. (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.
Pirrone, F., Pierantoni, L., Pastorino, G. Q., & Albertini, M. (2016). Owner-reported aggressive behavior towards familiar people may be a more prominent occurrence in pet shop-traded dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 11, 13-17.
Westgarth, C., Reevell, K., & Barclay, R. (2012). Association between prospective owner viewing of the parents of a puppy and later referral for behavioural problems. Veterinary Record-English Edition, 170(20), 517.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Companion Animal Psychology Book Club May 2017

The book of the month is Dog Sense by John Bradshaw.

A man reads a book with a happy little dog on his lap

The Companion Animal Psychology Book Club choice for May 2017 is Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw.

For our UK friends, the book is called In Defence of Dogs: Why dogs need our understanding.

From the inside cover,
"The dog has been mankind's faithful companion for tens of thousands of years yet today finds itself in crisis throughout the western world. Until just over a hundred years ago, most dogs worked for their living, and each of the many breeds had become well suited, over countless generations, to the task for which they were bred. Now, in their purely domestic roles, we fail to understand their needs. And it is time that someone stood up for dogdom: not the caricature of the wolf in a dog suit, ready to dominate its unsuspecting owner at the first sign of weakness, nor the trophy animal that collects rosettes and kudos for its breeder, but the real dog, the pet that just wants to be one of the family and enjoy life."

Are you reading alongside us? Please leave your thoughts on the book in the comments below.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

People Mistakenly Think Anxious Dogs Are Relaxed Around Baby

Dog owners are even worse than non-dog owners at interpreting canine body language in interactions with children, according to research.

A toddler and his dog look out of the window

Young children, in particular, are at risk of getting bitten by dogs. According to the AVMA, between 2010 and 2012 359,223 children in the US were bitten by dogs. Younger children are most often bitten in the home by a dog they live with (Reisner et al 2011). To prevent dog bites, it's best not to let a child approach a dog that is lying down or sitting still, and to closely supervise all interactions between children and dogs. But what if people don't know what to look for?

A recent study by Dr. Yasemin Salgirli Demirbas (Ankara University) et al asked people to observe three videos of interactions between a young child and a medium or large dog.

In one video, a baby crawls towards a Dalmatian who is lying down next to a ball; in another, a toddler walks around and touches a Doberman; and finally, a Boxer follows and licks the face of a crawling baby.

In all three cases, the interactions were risky, as the dogs were obviously showing anxious or fearful body language.

But that’s not how most people rated the dogs. Most people said the dogs were relaxed (68%) and confident (65%).

It made no difference whether or not people had children, but there were differences between the people who owned dogs and those who did not. Far from being better at reading dog body language, the dog owners were more likely to say the dog was relaxed, and it was the non-dog owners who were more likely to recognize the dog had an anxious emotional state.

The authors suggest several possible reasons for this, including that dog owners may be more likely to assume a dog is friendly, non-dog owners may be more cautious and dog owners more confident in their assessments, or dog owners may have less knowledge about aggression in dogs in this context.

The study also found that people (dog owners or not) tend to give overall assessments of the dog’s emotional state, rather than pointing to particular aspects of body language. They gave examples such as “the dog is happy” or “the dog knows that it is just a small child.” This kind of overall assessment was more common in people without children.

Every participant referred to tail wagging as a sign of positive emotions. This is worrying because in fact only some tail wags are a sign of happiness. Tail position and wagging speed, breadth and direction can all vary. Look for a lovely wide wag with a nice loose body in a happy dog; a narrow, rapid wag with the tail held high is a sign of a threat.

Other behaviours people often commented on were moving the ears back (recognized more by dog owners) and avoiding eye contact.

A father and toddler interact with the family dog
Photo: debasige; top, brickrena. Both Shutterstock.

The researchers say that even when people were able to recognize the dog’s emotional state, this would not necessarily have been enough to prevent a dog bite. People were still likely to describe the interactions between dog and child as playful or friendly.

The authors say, “This finding shows the importance of bite prevention programs aimed at teaching both the correct description of canine body language and the early signals of aggression, to equip adults with the necessary knowledge to safely supervise child–dog interactions”

The online survey had 71 participants and took place in Turkey. The small size of the survey is a drawback, but the findings suggest more research into how people interpret (or fail to interpret) interactions between dogs and children would be very helpful. Sometimes social media seems to be full of videos of very risky interactions followed by many comments describing them as cute.

And that’s one of the nice things about this study: the dogs in the videos did not show more obvious signs such as growls or air snaps that more people would have easily recognized. Instead they showed the more subtle signs dogs give that they are uncomfortable, such as lip licking, looking away, or moving away from the child.

While it’s not a surprise that most people did not recognize these signs, it is alarming, and shows more needs to be done to educate people about canine body language and safety around dogs.

This is not the only study to find people tend to assume safety around dogs. Westgarth and Watkins (2015) found a belief that dog bites “won’t happen to me.” But especially where children are concerned, we need to be aware that any dog can bite, and learn how to recognize signs of stress, anxiety and fear in dogs.

You will find some useful resources at stopthe77.comReisner Veterinary Behaviour Services often provides educational deconstructions of dog bite incidents on Facebook and is on my list of the pet people to follow in 2017.

You might also like: Educating children reduces risky behaviour around dogs.

Demirbas, Y. S., Ozturk, H., Emre, B., Kockaya, M., Ozvardar, T., & Scott, A. (2016). Adults’ Ability to Interpret Canine Body Language during a Dog–Child Interaction. Anthrozoƶs, 29(4), 581-596.
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