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Showing posts from 2012

Season's Greetings

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Seasons Greetings to you and all your furry and feathered friends.

These were our top stories of the year:

Social Referencing in Dogs

Now Where's My Treat?

How to Help a Fat Cat Lose Weight

Behavioural Problems in Rabbits, Rodents and Ferrets

Homeless Pets: A UK Survey

By Zazie Todd, PhD


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 and two cats.

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Is Timing an Important Feature of the Sounds Dogs Make?

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How do dogs respond to other dogs' barks, played forwards or backwards?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

I recently looked at the amazing story of how two dogs had been taught to go into an fMRI scanner – the beginnings of canine neuroscience. Today’s blog is about a study that takes a different, less hi-tech, approach to understanding the canine brain. Siniscalchi et al were interested in how dogs process other dogs’ vocalizations, and whether they show lateralization of the hemispheres – in other words, whether the left half and right half of the dog’s brain have different functions.

To begin with they needed to record some canine vocalizations. They took four dogs (two mixed-breed, one Border Collie, and one Rhodesian Ridgeback) and recorded the sounds they made during a disturbance, isolation, and play. To get the disturbance recording, they had the dog in a car with its owner, and a stranger approach. For the isolation recording, they got the sound the dog made when left on its own. And fin…

How to Help a Fat Cat Lose Weight

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Simple steps to help your overweight or obese cat lose weight.


By Zazie Todd, PhD

If you have any concerns about your cat's weight or diet, or simply want to know if your cat is a healthy weight, speak to your veterinarian.

Many cats are overweight or obese. A review by Kathryn Michel and Margie Scherk, published in the Journal of  Feline Medicine and Surgery, summarizes the problem and the steps that should be taken to help cats lose weight.

Their paper begins by discussing the serious health concerns caused by overweight and obesity: an obese cat is almost four times as likely to get diabetes as a normal-weight cat, and more likely to suffer from other problems such as urinary tract disease and lameness.

They point out that just ten extra pieces of kibble a day, over and above what the cat needs, will cause a 12% increase in weight over the course of a year.

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How much should a cat weigh? Many owners are not very good at recognizing that their cat…

Can Dogs Use Human Emotional Expressions to Identify Which Box Contains Food?

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Do expressions of happiness and disgust on a person's face tell dogs which box contains tasty food?


By Zazie Todd, PhD

Dogs are very aware of human emotional states. An earlier blog post looked at how dogs respond to a crying stranger. This week’s post is about whether or not dogs can use human emotional cues to tell them which of two boxes contains a tasty treat.

The research was conducted by David Buttelmann and Michael Tomasello in Germany. They compared two sets of human emotional expressions: Happy vs Neutral; and Happy vs Disgust. They tested 58 domestic dogs (Siberian Huskies, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies and German Shepherds). The Siberian Huskies were tested at the open air enclosure where they lived, and the other dogs were all tested in a room, mostly with the owner present.
The experimental set-up involved two cardboard boxes, each containing an item that acted as a clue to the experimenter as to which emotion they should display: sausage for t…

How Many People Use Electronic Shock Collars?

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By Zazie Todd, PhD

Regular readers of this blog will know that we take a special interest in research on dog training. We were excited to read a new paper by Emily Blackwell that investigates how many owners use electronic collars on their dogs, and whether or not they think they work.


Electronic collars deliver a small electric shock as an aversive stimulus, with or without a preceding warning signal. It is useful to know how many people use them, since a recent British report on shock collars found they have the potential to cause harm if mis-used, and recommended controls on their use and design.

The study took place in the UK and dog owners were recruited via questionnaires distributed to people out walking their dogs, at agricultural shows, at vet surgeries and pet shops. The questionnaire was adapted from a previous study by Blackwell and colleagues. It asked detailed questions about people’s experience at owning and training dogs, about the training methods they used, and abou…

Music for Kenneled Dogs

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By Zazie Todd, PhD

There are many studies on the effects of music, from what kind of music will make us spend more time and money in shops to the effects that learning to play an instrument has on our brains. Now, scientists at Colorado State University have turned their attention to what kind of music dogs might prefer to listen to in kennels.


The study, by Lori Kogan and colleagues, took place at a kennel that housed rescue dachshunds (generally long-term) and also boarded dogs while their owners were away. Being in kennels can be a stressful experience for dogs as they are kept in a small space with limited access to outdoors, and limited human and canine company. Kogan et al wanted to know if music would help to make the kennel environment less stressful.
They compared three different kinds of music: classical music (4 tracks), heavy metal (3 tracks), and some music that was specially designed to be relaxing for dogs (1 track). A period with no music was used as a control. The mus…

Attitudes to Rescue Dogs in Australia

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By Zazie Todd, PhD
Last week, we looked at a study which found that attitudes to cats predicted public preferences for Trap, Neuter and Release programmes, but knowledge about cats and experience with feral cats did not. But does knowledge and experience predict attitudes to rescue dogs?

A recent study by Kate Mornement and colleagues in Australia answers this question. In Australia, 36% of households have at least one pet dog, but as in other countries, a lot of dogs are in rescue and in need of homes. Understanding perceptions of rescue dogs is important as it can help in finding strategies to increase adoptions.

The internet survey had 1,622 participants and included sections on demographics, attitudes to getting a dog, and beliefs about animal shelters and how they operate. Details of the survey were distributed via social networking, and both dog-owners and non-dog owners were invited to take part. Since some large dog and rescue organizations shared links to the survey, the samp…

Public Opinions on Feral Cat Management

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TNR is seen as the most humane option for feral cats, survey shows.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

What should be done about feral cats? A recent survey in Athens, Georgia, investigated people’s preferences for three different methods: catch and euthanize, trap neuter and release (TNR), and the establishment of a feral cat sanctuary. Opponents of catch and euthanize schemes argue that it is inhumane to kill cats, and simply creates a cat-free area into which new feral cats will move. Trap, neuter and release programmes involve catching the cats and neutering or spaying them before releasing them; the cats continue to live in the same place, but are unable to breed. The third option in the survey was to “capture and place feral cats in a sanctuary just for them”.

Athens was an interesting place for the study, since the issue of feral cats had been in the local news for some time. A new law was passed just prior to the survey, which effectively meant that TNR was the only option for dealing with fer…

Social Referencing in Dogs

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Do dogs look to their person when something stressful happens, like infants do their parents? This study says yes.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

When human infants see something they are unsure of, they look to their caregiver to see what their reaction is. This is called social referencing. It has two components: first of all, a look from the object to the caregiver; and second, a reaction to the object (approach or avoidance) that is influenced by the caregiver’s response. This is well established in infants at twelve months of age. Do dogs do the same thing?

Two recent papers by Merola and colleagues set out to investigate, using a method similar to infant studies. They needed a slightly-scary object; something that will make a dog feel cautious, but not so scary that it will turn and run away. They decided to use an electric fan with streamers attached. 
In the first paper, published in Animal Cognition, the owner brought their dog into the room with the fan. The fan was at the far end of the…

Homeless Pets: A UK Survey

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This survey found out how many homeless dogs and cats there are in the UK - and the outcomes for them.

By Zazie Todd, PhD
The problem of pet overpopulation and homelessness is well known. Getting accurate figures for the number of homeless pets is a more difficult undertaking, since many organizations are responsible for stray and homeless animals. The results of a survey in the UK were recently published, and provide useful information about the scale of the problem, the wait times for animals to be accepted into rescue, and the likely outcome of their stay.

The survey was conducted by Jenny Stavisky and colleagues at the University of Nottingham. They sent a questionnaire to all the rescue organizations they could identify in the UK. They used a snowballing technique, asking each organization to suggest other groups that they should contact. They identified over 2300 contacts, and got an excellent response rate of close to 40%. In some cases, the head office of an organization provid…