20 March 2019

Animal Lovers on the Books that Changed Their Lives

The books about animals that had a profound effect and even caused a change of direction.

Animal lovers on the books that changed their lives, illustrated by a Golden Retriever sleeping in front of a bookshelf

Sometimes books can have a surprising effect on us.  The words mingle in our brain and make some kind of magic that percolates out into the real world.

I was curious to know which books about animals have affected people, and so I put out a call asking people about the animal book that changed their life. These are their answers.

Dog Sense by John Bradshaw

Emily Tronetti, MS, CPDT-KA, of Heal to Howl told me,

“In 2014, I was working as a veterinary receptionist and had my own pet sitting and canine massage business. One day, at a bookstore, I found the book Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet by Dr. John Bradshaw.

This book changed everything I thought I knew about dogs. I was amazed by the long and interconnected evolutionary history between humans and dogs. I was fascinated by how dogs perceive the world, their emotional lives and how these factors and more may impact our relationships with them. Dog Sense made me realize that I had so much more to learn about this species we share our lives with. I wanted to be a better dog guardian and professional, and I hoped to share this knowledge with others to help them do the same.

I noticed that Dr. Bradshaw was referred to as an “anthrozoologist.” Inspired by his book, I googled this to learn more. One of the first search results was the anthrozoology program at Canisius College. Upon further research, this program seemed like the perfect fit for me. I was accepted into the program in 2015 and embarked on an incredible educational journey that changed my career, how I view and think about the world and more! To this day, I’m deeply grateful for Dr. John Bradshaw and his book. I truly wouldn’t be where I am today had I not read it!”

Animal lovers on the books that changed their lives: Dog Sense book cover

The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson

Two people told me about the effect reading The Culture Clash had on them.

Joan Hunter Mayer MBA, certified professional dog trainer at Inquisitive Canine and inventor of TransPaw Gear   told me,

“The year was 2004. We had had our dog Poncho for about a year, working with a trainer who used both positive reinforcement and alpha rolling as her go-to training approach. We were new pet parents, and at the time didn’t know about using specific techniques. This trainer knew that both my husband and myself were into science-based learning and suggested we read a book called The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson. I read the entire book in one evening. Couldn’t put it down! I found it ironic that this trainer would recommend the book, since it talks about the adverse effects of punishment, but I’m thankful she did.

Not only did this book change my life, but it changed Poncho’s and every other dog I have worked with. I ended up becoming a certified professional dog trainer, even attended Jean’s Academy for Dog Trainers. It’s safe to say this book is my bible.”

Animal lovers on the books that changed their lives: The Culture Clash book cover

Nickala Squire CTC, dog trainer at Carefree Canine told me,

“All my life I knew I wanted to work with dogs as a career but as I began my dog training journey I didn’t know where to start. I was under the common (mistaken) impression that dog training was something you figure out on your own, that self-discovery and personal experiences were just as valid learning tools as formal education. Most of my knowledge therefore, came from TV, online forums and the local dog trainer at the time. I couldn’t get enough of it! When someone (now a friend) challenged my beliefs in those online forums and suggested that I may actually be causing my dog emotional suffering, I was both distraught and intrigued. She pointed me to various resources including The Culture Clash. This was really my first experience reading anything evidence based about dog training. It was done so in a way however that was easy to get hooked on, with humorous and intelligent analogies. The book changed my entire life. Not only did I realize that dog training was a factual and measurable profession, it opened my eyes to the biases and mistaken beliefs I had. If I had so easily and wholeheartedly been misled by things I saw on TV, what else could I be wrong about?

I consider myself a compassionate skeptic, but I was not always this way. I am forever grateful to that friend for leading me to The Culture Clash and to Jean Donaldson for writing it. My life would not have been the same without it!”

Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West by Marguerite Henry.

Allison Hunter-Frederick, Lincoln Pet Culture, said,

“There are a lot of recent books that have impacted my choices in animal welfare, but if I were to pick just one book that changed my life it would have to be a classic. I read Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West as a child. It inspired my love of horses. My husband and I once got to see mustangs. When the rare opportunity rises, we have ridden horses. Mostly though, my admiration is from afar. Instead the reason why I list Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West as a book that changed my life is that it showed me what an activist can do. Wild Horse Annie helped stop the eradication of mustangs. I don't expect to do anything as amazing as her, but in my small corner of the world I am doing what I can to improve the world for cats. Wild Horse Annie will forever be an inspiration to me.”

Animal lovers on the books that changed their lives: Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West book cover

The Mammals of British Columbia by Ian McTaggart Cowan and Charles J. Guiguet

Janice Holly Booth, the Anxious Advenurista, told me,

“The animal book that changed my life is called The Mammals of British Columbia, by Ian McTaggart Cowan and Charles J. Guiguet. First published in 1956 and loved by me to this very day, it's a comprehensive list of hooved, winged, and webbed animals that live in the province where I was born. Even before I could read, I would pore over the book and its beautiful black and white illustrations by Frank L. Beebe. A shrew diving in water, little bubbles coming from its nose; a sky full of big-tailed bats; a Baird dolphin leaping from the ocean. Everything that could be known about the animal was in that book, including drawings of its skull, its footprint, its teeth. And when I learned to read, I memorized every detail about every animal. The book fired up my deep curiosity about the animals living in the wilds around me, and encouraged me to look for signs of them whenever I would take a walk. Being able to identify a footprint in the mud was always a thrill. The book was really the beginning of a lifelong adoration and deep respect for the natural world.

It also inspired me to become an artist, to paint animals with the kind of realism and life-force that Beebe had done in this book.

As I write this to you, I have a copy next to me, from 1978. I still have the book, even though I no longer live in British Columbia, or Canada for that matter. The book - as they say - is a keeper.”

Animal lovers on the books that changed their lives: The Mammals of British Columbia book cover

Diet for a New America by John Robbins

Dianna Bari, president of db Media, says, 

Diet for a New America by John Robbins changed my life 28 years ago. I had been on a path to vegetarianism as a teenager. There were early signs. For hotdog day at elementary school, I would throw the wiener in the trash and just eat the bun with the condiments. Ditto for hamburgers during family barbeques. I would feed my cat under the table the meat on my plate. I was reading a lot of literature about how animals were treated by human beings and it resonated with me at an early age. I rescued birds, mice, rabbits and other animals as a child. Neighbors would call me if they found an injured bird. I stopped eating meat by the time I was 16 years old but what I still ate were Chicken Sante Fe burgers at Wendy's.

I think it was because the chicken was more disguised being that it had a battered outer coating. Also, I think chickens are given the least amount of compassion, unfortunately. I was guilty of that - I thought of them as ugly and stupid. But then I read Diet for a New America - and I tell people the story still to this day. I haven't read the book in 28 years so I am just going off of my memory and what resonated for me but the book takes on every angle of why people should not eat animals - for the environment, moral reasons and our health. One chapter focused on a study that was being done on hens. Researchers gave a hen duck eggs to sit on and she sat on them - even though duck eggs are bigger than chicken eggs. They thought that perhaps the hen was too stupid to realize they were not her own eggs. But when the ducks hatched, the hen took care of them. Again, they thought she was too stupid to realize they were not her own.

Then something miraculous happened. Chickens don't go in water and don't like it. But this hen knew the ducks she was taking care of needed to learn how to swim so she led all of them to a nearby pond and nudged each of them in so they could learn how to swim. The day I read that was the day I gave up chicken and I was ashamed that I hadn't expanded my compassion to chickens before reading that book. My life has always been about animals - I truly value them more than people and my life is about protecting them-both in my professional life in PR with clients like Air Shepherd and in my personal life through dog rescue. There were many factors and resources that opened my eyes along the way but that book served as a life-changing turning point.”

Animal lovers on the books that changed their lives: Diet for a New America

Animal Liberation by Peter Singer

Jackie Johnston CTC CPDT-KA CSAT dog trainer and behaviour consultant at Believe in Your Dog

Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. This book was recommended by my dog training mentor, Jean Donaldson. I had already started a career in force free dog training but I had not considered the wellbeing of other species in a very long time. After reading this book, my diet and the way I looked at food and every species of animal - not just dogs - completely shifted. A favorite quote: '...pain is pain, and the importance of preventing unnecessary pain and suffering does not diminish because the being that suffers is not a member of our species.'”

Animal lovers on the books that changed their lives: Animal Liberation cover

For more book suggestions, check out the Animal Book Club or my Amazon store: https://www.amazon.com/shop/animalbookclub

Is there a book about animals (fiction, non-fiction, or poetry) that changed your life? If you’d like your answer to be considered for inclusion in a future post on Companion Animal Psychology, email me on companimalpsych at gmail dot com. Be sure to put ‘The animal book that changed my life’ in the subject line, and remember to include your name and website (if you have one). Thanks. Entries may be subject to minor copy edits. I will let you know if your answer is chosen.

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17 March 2019

Companion Animal Psychology News March 2019

Animal cruelty investigations, cat music, dog parks, and interviews with dogs...the latest Companion Animal Psychology news.

Companion Animal Psychology Newsletter March 2019

Favourites from around the web this month:

If you’ve ever tried to get a wriggly puppy into a harness, this post is for you. Gearing up: How to harness your dog or puppy by Joan Grassbaugh Forry CTC.

“The one symptom I cannot ignore, however, is my dog’s tiny head, resting on my leg during a portion of the day when she’s usually ignoring me.” How your dog knows when you’re sick, by Amanda Mull.

"When you’re training a dog using a good plan and good treats, the dog is so keen to work it feels almost criminal." Kristi Benson CTC ponders the question, is training your dog unnatural?

“I have been leading a team studying animal cruelty investigation work and workers for the last few years. It is difficult research, to put it mildly.” Preventing animal cruelty is physically and emotionally risky for front-line animal workers by Dr. Kendra Coulter.

Should self-driving cars spare people over pets? Prof. Hal Herzog on the results of the Moral Machine experiment.

“In Chicago and other cities, the demand for pet-friendly public space has boomed. But many communities see off-leash parks as heralds of gentrification." Kriston Capps asks, are dog parks exclusionary?

And while we’re on the subject of dog parks, if you want one, you want it done right. “But what I really want in a dog park is good people.” My dream dog park by Tim Steele CTC. Don't forget to leave a comment to say what's on your list.

“Their lovely ears are not only are used to hear what's happening around them, but also to send various messages to other dogs and to humans.” How dogs hear and speak with the world around them by Dr. Marc Bekoff looks at dogs ears and at the communicative noises dogs make.

Cat music: “its distinguishing factors perhaps not so much the quality of the tunes, but the sounds created for their similarities to purring and other sounds that cats might find attractive (like squeaking noises and suckling sounds)." Dr. Mikel Delgado looks at a new study in can music make cats less stressed out?

The Animal Training Academy interviewed Jean Donaldson of The Academy for Dog Trainers about how she got into dog training, the problem of burnout, and fear of dogs.

Sound bites: Dogs on the microphone. A great set of photos at The Atlantic of dogs (including famous ones) being interviewed by the media. Put together by Alan Taylor.

Photos from behind the scenes at North America’s truffle dog competition. By Helen Carefoot with photos by David Williams.

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Animal Book Club

This month, the Companion Animal Psychology Book Club is reading Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw.

Cat Sense, this  month's choice for the Companion Animal Psychology book club

It’s a fascinating account of the evolutionary history, biology, and behaviour of domestic cats.

You can find a list of all the books in my Amazon store: https://www.amazon.com/shop/animalbookclub

Here at Companion Animal Psychology

I’m quoted in this post by Marc Bekoff for Psychology Today on why some dogs like to be touched but others don’t.

I share a few tips on senior dogs in this Bustle article, 11 ways to take care of your dog as it gets older.

I’m quoted in this piece in by Linda Lombardi in National Geographic, about some new research on the personality traits of dogs and their owners. I also wrote about this study here on Companion Animal Psychology:  Dogs’ personality traits vary with age (and dogs tend to be like their owners).

I have a piece on cognitive aging in dogs in the Spring 2019 edition of West Coast Veterinarian.

This month I published Kristi Benson’s thoughtful reflections on the ways in which dog training is like fiction. If you like fiction, or dog training, you’ll enjoy the read. It's a beautifully written piece. Into the middle of things: dog training lessons from the best fiction.

I wrote about a study on the effects of training cats to use their carrier when it comes to vet visits. Spoiler alert: cat carrier training helps! Cats trained to use their carriers find vet visits less stressful.

And I also wrote about the differences in lifespan between dogs of normal weight and those that are overweight. I was surprised at how large the difference is for some breeds; it’s sobering reading.

Most of all this month I've been busy working on copy edits for my book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. I can't wait to share more about it with you. Wag will be published in February 2020.

Pets in Art

This month’s picture is an illustration called Useful Domestic Dogs, which is in the Wellcome Collection. It shows a cur or cattle dog, a bull or beast dog, a rough water dog, a Mastiff or guard dog, a Dalmatian or coach dog, a shepherds dog, a Newfoundland or house dog, and a Terrier or vermin dog.

Useful Domestic Dogs, this month's Pets in Art in the Companion Animal Psychology newsletter for March 2019
Image credit: Wellcome Collection

The etching with watercolour is by Thomas Kelly of London, and the Wellcome Collection does not give a date for it. However, I found an old listing on eBay that says it is from Buffon’s Natural History, published in London in 1860.

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13 March 2019

Dogs' Personality Traits Vary With Age (and Dogs Tend to Be Like Their Owners)

Dogs are most trainable during middle age, and there are some fascinating links between the personality of dogs and their owners, research shows.

Dog's personality traits vary with age, and there are links between the personality of dogs and of their owners..
Photo: dezy/Shutterstock

Do you ever think much about the different personalities of dogs? New research looks at the personality profiles of dogs (and their owners) and finds that dog personality seems to change with age.

As well, the owner’s personality is linked to the dog’s personality. The study, by Dr. William Chopik and Dr. Jonathan Weaver (both Michigan State University) is published in Journal of Research and Personality.

The results show that some personality traits are more pronounced in dogs in middle age (6-8 years).

This was the case for responsiveness to training, which peaked at age 7.44. Younger dogs were rated as less responsive to training, and older dogs were not much different from middle-aged ones. As well, dogs scored higher on this trait if they were trained by their owners.

Aggression towards people was lower in young dogs, but peaked between 6 and 7 years (age 6.69) and then remained steady. Aggression towards people was lower in female dogs, dogs that had been spayed/neutered, and purebred dogs.

Older dogs are less aggressive towards other animals. Aggression towards other animals peaked between 7 and 8 years (age 7.74) and then began to decline with increasing age. This trait was lowest amongst dogs that had been spayed/neutered and that are purebred.

As you might expect, young dogs tended to be more active and excitable. Dogs who had been to obedience class and/or were trained by their owner were more likely to be active and excitable.

There was no effect of age on fearfulness, which could affect dogs of any age. Dogs that had been to obedience class, were spayed/neutered, and were purebred, were less likely to be fearful.

Not surprisingly, when the researchers looked at whether or not the dogs had bitten a person, this was more likely in dogs that were rated as aggressive towards people. It was more likely in dogs that had been trained by the owner, which may be surprising but perhaps means the owner tried to train the dog following the bite (this is not clear from the data). Older dogs and male dogs were also more likely to have bitten someone.

The results for aggression are interesting because earlier research has shown that aggression towards people and aggression towards animals are distinct. In other words, a dog that is aggressive towards other dogs is not necessarily aggressive towards people and vice versa. The new study did not distinguish between aggression towards family members and aggression towards strangers.

As well, the finding that some personality traits vary with age is in line with a previous study that suggests there is a developmental onset to some behaviour problems in dogs, at least in Guide dogs.

The new study also compared the personality traits of owners with the personality traits of the dogs. Of course the Big 5 personality traits for people do not exactly correspond with the five personality traits for dogs. However, there were some similarities.

The scientists write,
“Some of the most intriguing results found were instances of personality “compatibility” between owners and their dogs. For example, extraverts rated their dogs as more active/excitable; conscientious owners rated their dogs as more responsive to training; agreeable owners rated their dogs as less aggressive; neurotic owners rated their dogs as more fearful.”

Earlier research has also found a link between the personality of dogs and of their owners. One study published last year had broadly similar results for personality; it also found that choice of dog training methods does not mediate the link between dog and owner personality, but that there is a link between depression in men and the likelihood of using aversive methods.

Finally, the scientists found that reports of a better quality relationship were linked to people who scored highly on agreeableness, and also higher for women than for men. Canine characteristics associated with a better relationship quality were being more responsive to training, more active and excitable, and also if the dog was older.

As with other such research, this new study is just a snapshot in time and so it does not tell us whether people are choosing dogs with personalities similar to theirs, or if, by sharing their lives together, dogs become more like their people.

1,681 people completed a questionnaire that included the Big 5 personality questionnaire for themselves as well as ratings of their dog’s personality. As well, they were asked about the dog’s health, whether the dog had ever bitten someone, and their relationship with the dog.

Dogs aged 1.5 weeks to 16 years were included in the study, and about half of them were purebred.

The results of this study are fascinating, and it would be nice to see some longitudinal research to follow this up.

The scientists write that in future, they would be interested to look at how different training experiences affect canine personality traits.

What kind of personality does your dog have?

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Chopik, W. J., & Weaver, J. R. (2019). Old dog, new tricks: Age differences in dog personality traits, associations with human personality traits, and links to important outcomes. Journal of Research in Personality, 79:94-108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2019.01.005

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10 March 2019

The 2019 BC SPCA Animal Behaviour Science Symposium

The BC SPCA Animal Behaviour Science Symposium takes place 7-10 June 2019.

The BC SPCA Animal Behaviour Science Symposium 7-10 June 2019

The keynote speaker is Jean Donaldson of The Academy for Dog Trainers.

Other speakers include Dr. Chris Pachel, Debbie Martin, Dr. Claudia Richter, Kim Monteith, Dr. Karen van Haaften, Sarah Pennington, Renée Erdman, Lisbeth Plant, and myself.

As well, there is a learning lab on humane handling and cooperative veterinary care.

Full details are available on the Animal Behaviour Science Symposium website.

Maybe I'll see you there?

06 March 2019

Overweight Dogs Don't Live as Long, and Scientists Have Calculated How Much Less

Research on 12 popular dog breeds finds the average difference in life span between normal weight and overweight or obese dogs, and it makes for worrying reading.

Overweight dogs have shorter lives, and scientists have calculated by how much. The effects are worse for small dogs like the Yorkshire Terrier, pictured, showing the importance of keeping your dog to a normal weight. If in doubt, as your vet.
Photo: Caz Harris Photography/Shutterstock

We know that being overweight or obese is bad for pet dogs, but just how bad is it?

For the first time, scientists have worked out the difference in average life span for normal weight and overweight pet dogs of 12 breeds. The study by Carina Salt (WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition) et al. is published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

The scientists looked at some of the most popular breeds of all sizes, from Chihuahuas and Pomeranians to Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds.

The study only looked at dogs that have been spayed or neutered.

Co-author Prof. Alex German (University of Liverpool) told Science  Daily,
"Owners are often unaware that their dog is overweight, and many may not realise the impact that it can have on health. What they may not know is that, if their beloved pet is too heavy, they are more likely to suffer from other problems such as joint disease, breathing issues, and certain types of cancer, as well as having a poorer quality of life. These health and wellbeing issues can significantly impact how long they live."

The biggest differences in life span were found for little dogs. For a normal-weight male Yorkshire Terrier, the average life span is 16.2. However, if the dog is overweight, the average life span is 13.7 – a reduction of 2 and a half years. This was the largest difference found.

Big dogs had a smaller difference, but still had a reduced lifespan if they were overweight. A normal-weight male German Shepherd lives for 12.5 years, whereas his overweight counterpart only lives 12.1 years on average. This was the smallest difference found in the study.

"Most pet owners feel that dogs’ lives are too short as it is. This data shows how serious the effect of being overweight is on dogs"

The corresponding figures for female German Shepherds are 13.1 and 12.5 years, respectively, while for female Yorkshire Terriers the average lifespan is 15.5 if normal weight and 13.5 if overweight.

Amongst medium size dogs, a male Beagle of normal weight lives 15.2 years and his overweight counterpart lives only 13.2 years. For female Beagles, those of normal weight have a life span of 15.3 compared to 13.3 for those who are overweight.

The breeds included in the study were the Yorkshire Terrier, Pomeranian, Chihuahua, Shih Tzu, American Cocker Spaniel, Dachshund, Beagle, Pit Bull, Boxer, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever and German Shepherd.

The results are shown in the table below.

The life span of overweight dogs compared to normal weight dogs for 12 breeds. The effects of being overweight are worse for small dogs than large dogs.
Average life span for normal and overweight dogs. Reproduced from Salt et al (2019) under Creative Commons licence.

The researchers looked at anonymized data from BANFIELD Pet Hospitals (almost all in the US) from 1994 to 2015. Normal weight and overweight dogs of the 12 breeds in the study were matched at around age 7.5 for the purposes of analysis.

The dog’s weight was assessed by a 5-point Body Condition Score from 2010, and on a 3-point scale before then. In the analysis, dogs were classified as either underweight, overweight, or a normal weight.

The study included data from over 50,000 dogs. Although only 12 popular breeds were considered, it seems likely that the results would also apply to other breeds.

Overweight dogs have a shorter life span, and this post shows how much shorter for 12 popular dog breeds. Photo shows a spaniel in the trunk of a car after a walk.
Photo: Josh Powell/Shutterstock

This research cannot explain why overweight dogs tend to have a shorter life. As well, we have to remember that dogs typically don’t have a natural death but are often euthanized due to quality of life issues, and treatment costs may play a role in that if people are unable to afford treatment.

The study data covers a long time period, and there have been medical advances in this time.

Nonetheless, the results show that if your dog is overweight, it would be wise to do something about it.

Many owners find it difficult to judge if their dog is a normal weight or not, and it is also easy to be in denial about this. If you are not sure, ask your veterinarian. If your dog is overweight, speak to your vet about the best ways to get your dog down to a normal weight.

Research also shows that owners of overweight dogs need to change their own behaviour. Strategies that may be useful include setting specific goals for behaviours (such as how far you will walk the dog) and outcomes, as well as considering strategies to use to help you manage your dog’s food intake.

I think most pet owners feel that dogs’ lives are too short as it is. This data shows how serious the effect of being overweight is on dogs, and therefore how important it is to maintain your dog’s weight at a normal level.

The paper is open access (link below).

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Salt, C., Morris, P. J., Wilson, D., Lund, E. M., & German, A. J. (2019). Association between life span and body condition in neutered client‐owned dogs. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 33(1), 89-99. https://doi.org/10.1111/jvim.15367

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