09 December 2018

Fellow Creatures: A New Post

I have a new post at my Psychology Today blog Fellow Creatures about a study that looked at whether a dog walking program has benefits for people with intellectual disabilities who live in supported housing.

The results of this exploratory study found there were more friendly interactions with other people when a dog was present. Read more here.

Photo: dawnie206/Pixabay

05 December 2018

Dogs, Cats and Humans: The Best Sleep Partner...?

Women whose dog sleeps on the bed report better sleep than those with a human or feline sleeping partner.

The effects of co-sleeping with a dog, cat or human on women's sleep. Photo shows a dog and cat resting on the bed
Photo: Julie Vader/Shutterstock

Whether or not pets should be allowed to sleep on the bed is an age-old question. Some worry it will lead to a disturbed night’s sleep, while some old-fashioned dog trainers still claim it will spoil the dog. The latter argument is based on out-dated ideas about dominance and dog training and can be easily dismissed, but the issue of sleep quality is starting to get researchers attention.

A new study by Dr. Christy Hoffman (Canisius College) et al and published in Anthrozoƶs asked women about who sleeps in/on the bed with them and how good they thought their sleep was over the previous month.

The results show dogs are a less disruptive sleep partner than another human, while cats are just as disruptive as humans. Dogs are perceived as providing more comfort and security than another human, while cats provide even less.

Not only that, but women with a dog (or a dog and a cat) go to bed earlier and get up earlier than women with just a cat. They also have more regular sleep/wake times throughout the week, perhaps because of the need to provide toilet breaks for the dog. Regular sleep/wake times have been linked to better sleep quality in other research.

Dr. Christy Hoffman says,
“Ordinary dog and cat owners should know that there is still much to explore about the impacts that pets have on their owner’s sleep quality (and vice versa!). While our data suggest that women commonly perceive their dogs to be better bed partners than cats or adult humans, some dogs may make terrible bed partners and some cats may positively contribute to their owner’s sleep. We need more information to sort out the situations under which a pet in the bed may enhance an individual’s sleep quality and the situations under which it detracts from sleep quality.  
I hypothesize that findings from follow-up studies may be a bit mixed. That is, I anticipate we will find that pets may facilitate relaxation, which may be particularly beneficial for individuals who tend to feel they are vulnerable when they sleep; however, pets may also be associated with some night time disturbances, so of which we might not even recall the next morning.”

962 American women took part in the research. The vast majority of participants had a pet, and just over half lived in New York State. They completed a validated questionnaire about sleep quality (the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index) and questions about how they perceived their sleep had been affected by human, cat and dog bed partners in the last month.

57% of participants had a human sleeping partner, 55% shared their bed with a dog (or dogs) and 31% with a cat (or cats).

When women let their pet sleep on the bed, responses varied as to whether they slept better, worse, or no different if the pet slept in contact with them. Amongst the dog owners, a majority thought their dog spent at least 75% of the night on the bed, but responses for cats were more spread out and suggest cats spend less time on the bed than dogs.

Many participants had deficits in sleep quality, but the rates were the same for pet owners and non pet owners.

In case you are wondering, men were welcome to take part in the research but very few chose to do so, which is why these results focus on women. Researchers often find men are less likely to take part in research than women. Earlier studies have found women report sleeping less well than men, so this is an interesting topic for research.

These results are fascinating but raise many questions about co-sleeping with pets. The extent of disruption at night as well as feelings of comfort and security are all important. Women with a pet (dog, cat, or both) in the bed report higher levels of comfort and security than those without a pet in the bed.

People’s self-reports about sleep quality may not be entirely accurate, as some disturbances may not be remembered in the morning. The scientists are already investigating how to use accelerometers to assess how much time dogs spend resting or active.

Dr. Marc Bekoff did a great interview with Dr. Christy Hoffman about this research. If you want to learn more, check it out at Psychology Today. You can follow Dr. Hoffman's research via the Canisius Canines Facebook page.

Does your pet sleep on the bed, and if so, how do you think your sleep is affected?

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Hoffman, C. L., Stutz, K., & Vasilopoulos, T. (2018). An Examination of Adult Women’s Sleep Quality and Sleep Routines in Relation to Pet Ownership and Bedsharing. Anthrozoƶs, 31(6), 711-725. https://doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2018.1529354

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02 December 2018

Companion Animal Psychology Book Club December 2018

“A masterful account of the way science is revealing just how smart dogs can be."

The Companion Animal Psychology Book Club choice for December 2018 is The Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods

“A masterful account of the way science is revealing just how smart dogs can be. Fascinating and highly readable.”--John Bradshaw.

The Companion Animal Psychology Book Club choice for December 2018 is The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods.

From the inside cover,
""My dog can do that." 
So said a young Brian Hare to his professor who was studying animal behavior - and a revolution in our scientific understanding of dog intelligence began. Specifically, Brian Hare's dog, Oreo, could read human gestures that monkeys were blind to. The years of research that followed took Hare around the world and changed forever what we know of how dogs think and what they understand. This book is the masterfully told story of t his revolution and the new riches it brings to our relationship with dogs. 
We have learned more about how dogs think in the last decade than we have over the last century. Brian Hare, now director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center at Duke University, pioneered research that has proven dogs have a kind of genius for getting along with people that is unique in the animal  kingdom. His seminal work has acquainted him with every kind of dog from the tiniest shelter puppy to the exotic New Guinea Singing Dog.  
The dog genius revolution is transforming how we live and work with our canine friends, including how we train them. Does your dog feel guilt? Is she pretending she can't hear you? Does she want affection--or your sandwich? In The Genius of Dogs, Brian Hare and award-winning journalist and author Vanessa Woods lay out what the new cognitive science means for you in your daily life with your dog."

Learn more about the  Companion Animal Psychology Book Club (and how to join) or visit the Animal Book Club store on Amazon.

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28 November 2018

Fellow Creatures: A New Post

I  have a new post at my Psychology Today blog Fellow Creatures on a wonderful initiative to interest girls in science, via canine science.

All this month, the bloggers behind Do You Believe in Dog?, Mia Cobb and Julie Hecht, are sharing inspiring quotes from female canine scientists to encourage girls to get into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. They are using a girl's best friend to encourage girls to be scientists.

A girl with her pet dog... Using canine science to encourage girls to get into science
Africa Studio / Shutterstock

21 November 2018

What Are the Five Freedoms (and What do they Mean to You?)

The five freedoms of animal welfare, the one most people miss, and what it means for pet owners.

The Five Freedoms and what they mean to dog, cat and rabbit owners. Beautiful puppy playing tug, photo by Bad Monkey
Photo: Bad Monkey Photography

When you get a new puppy or kitten, no one tells you your new pet has five main welfare needs that need to be met. But maybe they should, because they provide a framework for how we should care for dogs, cats, and other pets. Read on to find out what they are, how many pet owners know them, and why they matter to you.

The Five Freedoms

The Five Freedoms were originally defined by the UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Council in the 1960s, and subsequently updated. They are now understood to apply to the welfare of all animals, not just livestock.

The Five Freedoms are:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst, by ready access to water and a diet to maintain health and vigour. 
  • Freedom from discomfort, by providing an appropriate environment. 
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease, by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment. 
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour, by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and appropriate company of the animal’s own kind.
  • Freedom from fear and distress, by ensuring conditions and treatment, which avoid mental suffering. 

The Five Freedoms define animal welfare and consequently you can find them on the websites of organizations like the ASPCA (with a downloadable poster), the BC SPCA and the RSPCA Queensland.  In the UK, the RSPCA and the PDSA write about how these welfare needs are enshrined in law.

The Five Freedoms tell us our pets have five welfare needs – diet, environment, health, companionship, and behaviour.

What are the Five Freedoms, and what do they mean for pet owners? They apply to the welfare of all pet animals, such as this sleepy cat pictured.
Many cats prefer to be solitary, while others enjoy companionship from other felines.. Photo: Anna Luopa / Shutterstock

Knowing About the Five Freedoms

How many pet owners know about these needs? Every year since 2011, the PDSA in the UK has released its PAW report on the welfare of pets. The 2018 report tells us how many people know about these five welfare needs.

The good news is that most people were able to identify four of the five welfare needs when shown a list.

  • 87% identified the need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
  • 85% identified the need to live in a suitable environment.
  • 85% identified the need for a suitable diet
  • 67% identified the need to exhibit normal behaviour patterns.

So what did most people miss?

  • Only 18% identified the need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals.

Unfortunately these needs are not as well known as they should be. Only 13% of pet owners were able to correctly identify all five of the animal’s needs.

And 29% of people thought that a need for human company was one of the welfare needs.

The Need for Companionship

Of course, for each animal these needs will be met in different ways.

Take the need to be kept together with (or apart from) other animals of the same species.

Guinea pigs need companionship from other guinea pigs and should not be kept alone. Because of this, in Switzerland it is illegal to keep just one guinea pig.

Rabbits are also very sociable, and prefer to live with at least one other rabbit that they are bonded with. (Remember to neuter them so as not to have too many rabbits).

Domestic cats as a species are flexible in their social behaviour. Some cats can live happily with other cats. This is especially likely for cats that have grown up together and/or that were socialized with other cats during the sensitive period for socialization (but there are no guarantees). On the other hand, as solitary hunters cats do not need other cats to survive, and some cats do not like to have to share their home with other cats.

What are the Five Freedoms and what do they mean to you? Companionship is one of the freedoms. These two happy dogs love to hang out together
Many dogs enjoy canine companionship. Photo: Bad Monkey Photography

Most pet dogs are sociable and like to have other canine friends. Luckily, if there are no other dogs in the home, it’s possible to arrange dog walks with other friendly dogs or visit doggy daycare or the dog park so your dog still gets to hang out with other canines.

However, if you have the kind of dog who – for whatever reason – does not like to hang out with other dogs, they should be kept separate. (This is especially the case if the dog is a risk to other dogs and will attack them).

So you need to consider the needs of the species as well as those of your individual pet.

The Five Freedoms apply to all pets, including guinea pigs like this one. In particular for guinea pigs, they should always have another pig as a companion
Photo: Ase / Shutterstock

The Welfare of Cats, Dogs and Rabbits

The PAW report looks at the welfare of the UK’s dogs and cats in terms of the welfare needs and is engagingly presented if you want to take a look (see the link below).

One of the figures that caught my eye is that 12% of dog owners have never trained their dog, a percentage that has not changed much over the years of the PAW reports.

24% of dogs were left alone for 5 or more hours on weekdays. As a general guideline, it is recommended that dogs should not be left alone for more than 4 hours.

And although 80% of people thought their dog was the right weight, 40% did not know how much the dog weighed or what the body condition score was.

For cats it is even worse, with 65% not knowing how much the cat weighs or the body condition score.

And 77% of cat owners said they would like to change at least one of their cat’s behaviours. The most common were scratching furniture (27%) or carpets (22%). (Scratching is a normal behaviour for cats and it’s up to us to provide good scratching posts). As well, 17% reported the cat waking them up, and 17% said the cat begged for food.

Weight was also an issue for rabbits, with 77% of owners not knowing the rabbit’s weight or body condition score.

And companionship is also a major concern, because 54% of rabbits are kept as solitary animals. The PDSA report says “Living a solitary life will be seriously impacting on the physical health and mental wellbeing of our pet rabbits.”

What are the five freedoms, and what do they mean for pet owners? One of the five welfare needs is companionship, and rabbits (like this one) prefer not to be solitary but to live with other rabbits they have bonded to
A solitary life is bad for rabbits. Photo: Ostapenko / Shutterstock

Updating the Five Freedoms

The Five Freedoms have been tremendously helpful in providing a framework to improve animal welfare.

If we don’t provide them for our pets, they will be stressed and unhealthy. It is also important to note that many behaviour problems are, at least to some extent, a result of the animal’s welfare needs not being met.

More recently, a complementary approach to animal welfare called the Five Domains has been proposed by Prof. David Mellor. One of the things about this approach is that it emphasizes the need for positive experiences, not just minimizing negative experiences. You can read more about the Five Domains model here.

Whatever kind of pet we have, it’s important to think about how to provide for good welfare in terms of health, environment, diet, behaviour and companionship.

What do you think is the priority for improving people’s knowledge of what their pets need?

Further Reading

Five fun things to do to make your dog happy today and how to make the world better for dogs.
Five things to do for your cat today and how to make the world better for cats.


Farm Animal Welfare Council (2009) Farm Animal Welfare in Great Britain: Past, Present, and Future.
Mellor DJ (2016). Moving beyond the "Five Freedoms" by Updating the "Five Provisions" and Introducing Aligned "Animal Welfare Aims". Animals : an open access journal from MDPI, 6 (10) https://doi.org/10.3390/ani6100059
PDSA (2018) Paw Report. Available for download at https://www.pdsa.org.uk/media/4371/paw-2018-full-web-ready.pdf 

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