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Companion Animal Psychology News November 2019

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The placebo effect in pets, the meaning of discipline, and stunning wildlife photos... this month's Companion Animal Psychology News.



By Zazie Todd, PhD

My favourites this monthJulie Hecht is an outstanding blogger who writes about the stuff dogs really want you to know about, like urine and humping and farts and a life worth living. As she bows out from her Scientific American blog Dogpies, don’t miss her final post, Dog science is timeless, and all the great posts it links to  And be sure to follow her on social media to keep up with what she does next.

"That leads me to wonder: why, despite increasing evidence, do some people deny that animals have emotions or feel pain?... I think it’s because it’s easier to hurt them if you think of them as dumb brutes. " Great interview with Carl Safina by Claudia Dreifus: Carl Safina is certain your dog loves you.

Indoor-only or outdoor access? A detailed, evidence-based consideration of the advantages and disadvantages of allowing …

Fellow Creatures: The Life Stages of Dogs

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I have a new post over at my Psychology Today blog, Fellow Creatures. It looks at the life stages of dogs, from puppies to seniors, and what we know about dog behaviour during these different periods.

By Zazie Todd, PhD



The 2019 American Animal Hospital Association Canine Life Stage Guidelines divide the dog's lifespan into four stages.  My post focuses on the behavioural aspects of each stage. As well, there are new guidelines from AAHA on the age at which dogs should be spayed/neutered, depending on their size. Learn more in the life stages of dogs.


Zazie Todd, PhD, is the author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. She is the founder of the popular blog Companion Animal Psychology, where she writes about everything from training methods to the human-canine relationship. She also writes a column for Psychology Today and has received the prestigious Captain Haggerty Award for Best Training Article in 2017. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two …

Cats’ Im-purr-fect Homes are Stressing Them Out, Study Says

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Behaviour issues because of a poor home environment are the biggest welfare concern for cats, experts say.


By Zazie Todd, PhD

Cats are incredibly popular pets. There are an estimated 95.6 million pet cats in the US, 10.9 million pet cats in the UK, and 9.3 million in Canada. They have a reputation as being easy pets, but is it possible that means we aren’t doing enough to keep our cats happy? New research published in Veterinary Record suggests that is the case.

Cat experts were surveyed for their opinions on the most important welfare issues for pet cats, and asked to rank them according to severity, duration, and prevalence.

Cat owners can avoid these issues by making sure they know about cats. Prof. Cathy Dwyer (Scotland's Rural College), co-author of the research, told me in an email,
“I would most want cat owners to understand more about cat behaviour – why cats do what they do, what they need for good welfare and how we can provide that for them. To be honest (and as an ethol…

Reward-Based Dog Training Isn’t Just for Sunny Days

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Answering common questions about dog training methods.


By Zazie Todd, PhD

Back when I had two dogs, Ghost and Bodger, I had a lot of questions about the information I saw about dogs and especially on how to train them. It just didn’t fit with the kind of pet owner I wanted to be, or with what I knew from my background in Psychology. Learning more about dogs and cats, and sharing that information with people, was my main motivation for starting Companion Animal Psychology. And here we are, seven-and-a-half-years later, and on my 500th post.

Some common themes in my inbox over the years tell us about changes in how we think about pets, and in dog training in particular.

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Questions about dog training methods The most common questions I get are about dog training methods. One set of questions is from people wanting links to share with others they hope to persuade to stop using electronic collars, leash jerks, or other aversive methods. I typically share se…

Animal Book Club November 2019

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"This is an excellent book about comparative cognition, how minds and brains evolve, and how to think about the minds of animals."―Nicola S. Clayton, University of Cambridge.



By Zazie Todd, PhD

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This month, the Animal Book Club is reading Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds by Louise Barrett.

From the cover,
"When a chimpanzee stockpiles rocks as weapons or when a frog sends out mating calls, we might easily assume these animals know their own motivations--that they use the same psychological mechanisms that we do. But as Beyond the Brain indicates, this is a dangerous assumption because animals have different evolutionary trajectories, ecological niches, and physical attributes. How do these differences influence animal thinking and behavior? Removing our human-centered spectacles, Louise Barrett investigates the mind and brain and offers an alternative approach for understanding animal and human cogn…

Dogs Don’t Have to be Afraid of Fireworks

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Preventive exercises and training are good for dogs’ fear of fireworks, study shows.


By Zazie Todd, PhD

Up to half of dogs are afraid of fireworks, but a survey of 1225 dog owners shows there is hope, both in terms of preventing such fears in the first place and helping dogs who are already afflicted. The research, by Dr. Stefanie Riemer (HundeUniBern) is published in PLoS One, and has important implications for dog owners and dog trainers.

Dr. Riemer told me in an email,
“From this study, perhaps the most important takeaway for dog owners is not to wait for problems to appear but to be proactive. Teaching dogs to associate loud noises with something positive appears to be highly effective in preventing a later development of firework fears. This is especially true for puppies, but it also has beneficial effects in adult dogs.  And maybe the other point is, if you have a dog affected by noise fears, I highly recommend to seek professional help to find the best strategy to help them to …

An Interview with Alexandra Horowitz about Our Dogs, Ourselves

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“A fuller understanding of the needs of dogs is integral to good living with dogs,” says Alexandra Horowitz.



An interview with New York Times best-selling author, Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, about her wonderful new book, Our Dogs, Ourselves: The Story of a Singular Bond, the importance of dogs' sense of smell, the dignity of dogs, and what happens at the dog cognition lab. Our Dogs Ourselves was the animal book club’s choice for September 2019.

Our Dogs, Ourselves and other great animal books are available in my Amazon store: https://www.amazon.com/shop/animalbookclubThis page contains affiliate links.


Zazie: You’re already written some wonderful books about dogs, including the New York Times bestseller Inside of a Dog. What made you decide to look at the relationship between people and their dogs for this book?

Alexandra: For myself, it was that, even though I’m studying exclusively dogs, I study owned dogs, dogs that live with a person. They come to my lab with people. They’re in my …