14 November 2018

Do dogs run faster for more treats or better quality treats?

Scientists find out which rewards dogs will run faster for, and the results explain why you need to use good treats in dog training.

Do dogs prefer better quality treats or more treats? The implications for dog training from a study of what makes dogs run faster, like this beautiful dog running through a field.
Photo: Dora Zett / Shutterstock


Modern dog trainers use positive reinforcement to train dogs, and that reinforcement often takes the form of food (see the ultimate dog training tip to find out why).

When you want a dog to come when you call them, you want to use your best training treats as a reward.

But scientists have paid surprisingly little attention to what dogs consider worth working for – until now.

A recent paper by Dr. Stefanie Riemer et al, published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, looks at the relative effectiveness of quality and quantity of reinforcement as measured by how fast dogs run to the bowl they can eat it from.


Pet dogs were trained to run along a walkway that was 20 metres long in order to obtain food. The type of food (quantity or quality) was shown by the containers that were visible to the dog from the start position.

The first study compared one piece of dry food to five pieces of dry food. This was signalled to the dog by the presence of one or five blue bowls containing the food.

But dogs did not run any faster for a greater amount of the dry food.

In the second study, the scientists compared a piece of sausage to a piece of dry food. The type of reinforcement available was shown by the food being in a black or a white bowl.

Dogs ran significantly faster to get the piece of sausage than the piece of dry food.

Interestingly, they still ran fast when the reinforcement was changed to dry food instead of sausage, perhaps because it was a novel item. But the scientists note the pet dogs may have had prior life experience of sometimes receiving no or lower value reinforcement, and this could also explain this result.

The next question on many dog trainers’ minds will be about the effects of one versus multiple pieces of sausage. However this was not tested, so remains a question for future research.

Prior to testing preference by running speed, the scientists did a more standard preference test to see how much time dogs spent looking at, sniffing or attempting to lick the different food items when they were inaccessible behind a wire mesh.  These results, contrary to the runway task, showed a preference for both quality and quantity.

This is a small study as only 19 pet dogs completed all parts of the experiment, so more research is needed. But it is really nice to see researchers paying attention to this kind of question.

The results show that the quality of treats makes a difference to dogs. If you want good results in training, it’s important to know what motivates the dog.

If you love Companion Animal Psychology, you can support me on ko-fi.


Reference
Riemer, S., Ellis, S. L., Thompson, H., & Burman, O. H. (2018). Reinforcer effectiveness in dogs—The influence of quantity and quality. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 206:87-93. DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2018.05.016

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12 November 2018

Celebrating Two Years of the Animal Book Club

Great books about animals, discussed amongst friends… The Companion Animal Psychology Book  Club is two years old.

Celebrating two years of the Animal Book Club for people who love books and love animals


This month the Companion Animal Psychology Book Club is two years old.

I started the book club in November 2016, intending it to be a small group. Within a couple of days several hundred people had joined and I stopped accepting new members because I did not want the group to get too big.

The first book was The Trainable Cat by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis, which remains one of my favourites of all the ones we’ve read. Other personal favourites include Being a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz, How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog) by Lee Dugatkin and Lyudmila Trut, and Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog. I was also pleased to re-read Plenty in Life Is Free by Kathy Sdao with the book club.

But it's really hard to pick favourites because I've enjoyed them all, and every single one is well worth reading! Rather than mention them all here, you can see a full list in the Animal Book Club Amazon store or on the book club page. If you're looking for something animal-related to read, it's a great place to find a good book.

Members choose the books, and they are always excellent choices! This month’s book is Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words by John W. Pilley with Hilary Hinzmann.

Celebrating two years of the animal book club. Here, a dog relaxes by a book.


I’ve been incredibly lucky to interview the authors of some of the book club choices, which has been a real honour (and great fun too). You can read those interviews here:


The book club reads ten books a year, taking January and July off. If you’d like to join, follow the instructions on the book club page.

Celebrating two years of the animal book club for people who love animals and love books


I also recently started a Facebook group called Animal Books for those who would like to chat about books, share news about new titles and interviews with authors, without the commitment to read a book a month. The group shares the same commitment to humane and kind treatment of animals (and people) as the Animal Book Club.

I always post the book of the month to this blog, and many people read the books alongside the book club too.

Celebrating two  years of the animal book club for people who love animals and books. Here, a fox curls up to sleep


Along the way, I’ve had fun choosing some nice photos for the announcements of each month’s book. But since it gets expensive to keep buying stock photos, I’ve switched to a standard frame that uses some of my favourite images.

Would you like a sneak preview of what we’re reading next month? It will be The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods.

What are your favourite books about animals?

Celebrating two years of the animal book club. Here, a cup of coffee and a book by a pond of koi carp


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07 November 2018

How to Feed Your Cat: The Modern Guide to Feline Foraging

The best way to feed cats has changed. Instead of leaving kibble in a bowl, here’s what you should do now.

How to feed your cat. Instead of leaving kibble in a bowl (pictured), here's what to do instead
Photo: Africa  Studio / Shutterstock


It used to be simple: put kibble in a bowl and leave it out all day.

But that’s not how we should be feeding our pet cats. A new consensus statement from the American Association of Feline Practitioners explains the way we feed cats now.

The AAFP says are several reasons to think more carefully about you feed your cat. One is the increase in overweight and obesity in pet cats, which is bad for their health (see: how to help a fat cat lose weight).

Another reason is that using food puzzles for cats is a great enrichment activity that engages cats’ hunting instincts. This is especially important now that most pet cats are kept indoors for a lot or all of the time.

As well, having the right feeding system can help to keep feline stress levels low. This is especially important in households with more than one cat.

Read on to find out the modern way to feed a cat.



Use puzzle feeders


Puzzle feeders are toys that make the cat work to get the food out. For example, a ball with a hole in that lets pieces of kibble fall out when the cat pushes the ball around. Or something the cat has to reach into with a paw to get the kibble.

There are many different commercially available food puzzle toys, but it’s also very easy to make your own. Most are designed for dry food like kibble, but some also work with wet food.

When your cat is new to food puzzles, you need to make them easy and use treats; over time, your cat can progress to more difficult food toys.

For reviews of many different types of food puzzles, check out foodpuzzlesforcats.

How to feed your cat: Multiple small meals a day with food toys, different locations, and separated resources



Frequent small meals for cats


The AAFP recommend the cats’ daily calorie count is split into multiple small meals throughout each 24 hour period.

Although they do not specify how many meals a day is ideal for cats, International Cat Care suggest you feed your cat five (or more) small meals a day.

Since it is likely you will be out for some of those meals, you can use an automated feeder and set the timer to provide a meal when you are at work.


Feed High Up and in Different Places


Cats like to be high up, and so food does not have to be provided on the floor. In fact, the AAFP recommend that you use high places to feed your cat.

But they caution that for some cats, such as those with arthritis, this may not be possible.

For all cats, change the location of the food instead of feeding in the same place each time. This way cats have to use their senses (such as their nose) to forage for it.


Keep food and water separate


Cats prefer to have their resources separated, so that means food should be kept separate from water. And it needs to be in a place(s) the cat feels safe.

How to feed your cat: multiple small meals a day, via food toys, and other rules of feeding cats these days
It's easy to make DIY food toys for your cat. Photo: jessjeppe / Shutterstock

As well, food and water should of course be in a different location than the litter boxes.


Separate food in multi-cat households


If you have more than one cat, you need to take account of the relationship between the cats when feeding them.

Although some cats may get on well and not mind, most cats would prefer to eat separately. Remember they are solitary hunters and would normally hunt and eat on their own.

So if you have multiple cats, make sure their food is separate. They should be able to eat their food in peace without seeing the other cats.

If need be, you can get crafty and put one cat's meals in locations other pets cannot reach or squeeze into, and/or use automatic feeders that will only open for the correct animal's microchip.


Keep an eye on your cat’s weight


Your vet will weigh your cat at each appointment, but the AAFP recommend that you monitor your cat’s weight. If you have any concerns, speak to your veterinarian.

They also say that treats should not make up more than 10% of the cat's daily calorie intake.


How to feed cats


So that’s how to feed cats: Five (or more) small meals a day, via puzzle feeders left in different locations, preferably high up, separate from the water bowl, and away from other cats in the household.

If you have any questions or concerns about you cat's weight or food, speak to your veterinarian.

Do you already follow these guidelines when feeding your cat? How many meals a day do you give your cat?


P.S. If you love Companion Animal Psychology, you can support me on ko-fi.



You might also like:  Five things to do for your cat today and how to make the world better for cats.


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04 November 2018

Companion Animal Psychology Book Club November 2018

"The most scientifically important dog in over a century." —Brian Hare.

Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words is the Animal Book Club choice for October


The Companion Animal Psychology Book Club choice for November 2018 is Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words by John W. Pilley with Hilary Hinzmann.

From the back cover, 
"Chaser has fascinated dog lovers and scientists alike. Her story reveals the potential for taking out dialogue with dogs well beyond "fetch." When retired psychology professor John Pilley first got his new Border collie puppy, Chaser, he wanted to explore the boundaries of language learning and communication between humans and man's best friend. Exhibiting intelligence previously thought impossible in dogs, Chaser soon learned the names of more than a thousand toys and sentences with multiple elements of grammar. Chaser's accomplishments are revolutionizing the way we think about the intelligence of animals. John and Chaser's inspiring journey demonstrates the power of learning through play and opens our eyes to the boundless potential in the animals we love."

Will you be reading too?

Visit the Animal Book Club Amazon store or the book club page to buy this or other book club choices.


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31 October 2018

Can Synthetic Pheromones Help With Aggression in Multi-Cat Households?

Promising results from a pilot study of synthetic cat-appeasing pheromones (Feliway Multicat) for aggression between cats that live together.

Can Feliway Multicat  help resolve aggression between cats that live together? Promising results from a randomized controlled trial
Photo: Samarsky / Shutterstock


Cat owners know only too well that cats can be choosy. As solitary hunters, the domestic cat can do just fine alone and does not have to be friends with other members of the species. On the other hand, cats can live in social groups, especially in colonies of female cats and their offspring, when female cats will help care for each other’s young.

Many people have multiple pet cats and they aren’t always friends. It is obvious cats don’t get along if they fight. But there are also more subtle signs of cat aggression, such as when one cat blocks another cat’s access to a resource like the litter box. As well as bouts of aggression, when cats don’t get along they may hold urine for too long, pee outside the box, suffer feline idiopathic cystitis, over-eat or lose weight, or sometimes (if they have outdoors access) one of them may even leave home.

Resolving aggression between cats may involve reintroducing cats, changes to the layout of the home (such as multiple, separated resources), behavioral work such as counter-conditioning, and/or medication.

A study by veterinary behaviourist Dr. Theresa DePorter and colleagues, published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and  Surgery, investigates the effectiveness of a synthetic cat-appeasing pheromone in resolving cases of aggression in multi-cat households.

As the scientists write in the introduction to the paper,
“The wellbeing of millions of cats may be enhanced if cats got along with housemate cats.”
Although this is a pilot study, it is a double-blind randomized controlled trial with a placebo.

Pheromones are semiochemicals, that is, chemicals with meaning. Pheromones are very important to cats and some help maintain social cohesion.

The synthetic cat-appeasing pheromone used in the study is FELIWAY MultiCat which is made by Ceva, who funded the research. In Europe it is called Feliway Friends. It is a synthetic version of the pheromones that are produced by mother cats when the kittens are young, especially during the sensitive period for socialization in kittens, which is 2-7 weeks of age.

The synthetic pheromone is in a diffuser that is plugged into a socket. Therefore the placebo was also a plug-in and looked the same.

Can pheromone plug-ins like Feliway Multicat help with aggression between cats in the same house? Promising results from a study.
Photo: joyfuldesigns / Shutterstock


Forty-five people with 2-5 cats in the home and who reported aggression between cats were enrolled in the study. Three households did not complete the study and so the final sample was 17 households that received Feliway Multicat and 25 that received the placebo.

One week before the start of the treatment, participants attended a 90-minute training session with a board-certified veterinary behaviourist. The session included information and video to teach them how to recognize feline aggression and how to tell the difference between play and aggression. As well, participants were given information on counter-conditioning, advice on what to do if their cats were being aggressive, and told not to use punishment (e.g. spray bottles) or startle their cats. (For more on why you shouldn’t use spray bottles for cats, see this nice post from Julie Hecht).

Participants drew a plan of their house and the scientists decided the best place to plug in the two diffusers (either Feliway Multicat or placebo). The diffusers were used for 28 days during which cat owners filled out a daily diary and a weekly questionnaire about their cats’ behaviour.

Even before the start of the treatment, rates of reported aggression dropped, likely due to the education session. Twelve types of aggressive behaviour between cats were included in the questionnaire.

During the 28-day period of using the plug-ins, aggression decreased in both groups, but it decreased significantly more in the group using Feliway Multicat. During a two-week follow-up, aggressive behaviours remained low in the group that had used Feliway Multicat, but began to go up in the placebo group.

There was no difference between the two groups in terms of affiliate behaviours such as nose-touching, sleeping in the same room, or licking the head or neck of another cat. This category also included affiliative behaviours towards humans, such as whether all cats came to greet the person when they arrived home.

At the end of the study, participants were asked if their cats were getting along better. 84% of the people who had used Feliway Multicat said yes, compared to 64% of those who had the placebo.

47% of the cats in this study were declawed, a much higher proportion than the average in the US (24%). The scientists cite other, unpublished, research that suggests a link between declawing of cats and aggression between cats that live together. Research also shows declawed cats suffer pain and other adverse effects (Martell-Moran et al 2017; you can read more about it in this great post by Dr. Mikel Delgado).

Where I live (BC), declawing of cats is banned, but if you are somewhere this procedure is legal, you should be aware that it has many risks for your cat. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association calls this surgery “unacceptable.”

But back to the pheromone study. It used owner observations and it is possible people missed some behavioural signs, even though they received training. Participants in the study were given information at the education session, but if owners simply use synthetic pheromones on their own without learning more about cat behaviour they may not see the same results. As well, it would be nice to see a longer follow-up period in future research.

This is the first time Feliway Multicat has been tested in a randomized controlled trial. For more on previous research on other synthetic pheromones for cats, see this list compiled by Dr. Mikel Delgado.

The scientists conclude,
“In this study, treatment with a proprietary cat-appeasing pheromone diffuser for 4 weeks showed a beneficial effect in the management of feline aggression in multi-cat households. During the study, when cat owners were educated by a board-certified veterinary behaviourist about feline behavior, provided instruction on handling aggressive events and discouraged from punishing cats (eg, squirt guns or other startle methods), the level of conflict began to decrease even prior to implementation of the treatment. Pheromones may be useful as a component of a complete behavior-modification program.”
While more research is needed, these are promising results that suggest Feliway Multicat may help as part of the treatment for aggression between cats living in the same home. The study is open access (link below).

If you have more than one cat, how well do your cats get on with each other?

If you love Companion Animal Psychology, you can support me on Ko-fi.



References
DePorter, T. L., Bledsoe, D. L., Beck, A., & Ollivier, E. (2018). Evaluation of the efficacy of an appeasing pheromone diffuser product vs placebo for management of feline aggression in multi-cat households: a pilot study. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098612X18774437
Martell-Moran, N. K., Solano, M., & Townsend, H. G. (2018). Pain and adverse behavior in declawed cats. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 20(4), 280-288. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098612X17705044

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