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The Posts of the Year 2013

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By Zazie Todd, PhD

A big thank you to all of our readers! We wish you a very happy and healthy 2014!!

The most popular posts of the year were:

1. Are Young Children More Interested in Animals Than Toys?

A set of three studies by Vanessa LoBue et al looked at young children in a naturalistic play environment in which they could choose to interact with animals or toys.




2. The End for Shock Collars?

Research funded by Defra in the UK found that electronic collars do not work better than positive reinforcement training for recall and chasing, and have negative welfare consequences for some dogs, even when used by qualified trainers. In addition, "some end-users either fail to read the instructions, misunderstand or deliberately disregard the advice in the manuals."








3.  How Do Hand-Reared Wolves and Dogs Interact with Humans?

The question of how dogs evolved from wolves is complicated, but it is clear there are important differences that could arise from genetics, domestication…

Season's Greetings

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Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year  from  Companion Animal Psychology Blog!

By Zazie Todd, PhD


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Can Fatal Dog Attacks Be Prevented?

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A sobering new report shows such tragic attacks are a multi-factorial problem.


By Zazie Todd, PhD

Cases of humans being killed by dogs are investigated in a new paper by lead author Gary Patronek (Center for Animals and Public Policy, Tufts University).The scientists analyzed dog bite fatalities in the United States from 2000 to 2009, and discovered there are usually multiple contributing factors, many of them preventable.
During this time, there was an average of 25.6 dog bite fatalities per year, equivalent to 0.087 fatal bites per one million people per year. To put this in context, it is much less than the risk of being struck by lightning in the United States, which is estimated at 1 in 775,000 people per year.
Previous research has relied on media reports, which may not be entirely accurate or provide the full story. In this study, although the scientists used the media to help identify cases of dog bite fatalities, they also searched national death records. Up until 2007, when p…

Should You Take Your Dog to the Dog Park?

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Dogs are social creatures, but while some dogs clearly love to visit dog parks, others seem less happy about it. New research by Ottenheimer Carrier et al (Memorial University of Newfoundland) investigates whether the dog park is stressful, and what dogs do there.


By Zazie Todd, PhD

Dog parks are open spaces, usually fenced, where dogs can be off-leash. They are particularly useful in municipalities where leash laws mean there are few spaces for dogs to run free. The researchers recruited owners at a dog park and asked if their dogs could take part.
Eleven dogs took part in the first study, in which saliva samples were collected before and after a walk, before arrival at the dog park, and after being in the dog park for about twenty minutes. Because some samples did not get enough saliva, full results were available for six dogs. The results showed that salivary cortisol levels were higher after 20 minutes in the dog park compared to before they arrived. There was no difference in leve…

Do Dogs Or Hand-Reared Wolves Pay More Attention to People?

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What does a study of attention tell us about the domestication of dogs?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Theories about the domestication of dogs often say they have evolved to pay more attention to humans than their wolf forebears. But the experimental evidence tends to only look at dogs. A new study by Friederike Range (University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna) and Szófia Virányi (Wolf Science Centre) compares the abilities of dogs and hand-reared wolves to utilize observations of human or dog behaviour to find food.

Eleven wolves and fourteen dogs took part in the study. They were hand-reared in similar conditions, and all were taught basic obedience such as sit, down, and how to walk on a leash. They were tested at 4, 5 and 7 months of age.
The study took place in a meadow. A dead chick was used as food in the experiment. Each wolf or dog was held on a short leash while a demonstrator (human or canine) put the chick in one of three locations. Then they were released on a 10m long line to explore…

Can Dogs Eavesdrop?

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Do dogs prefer nice people? Researchers look at whether dogs notice who is 'nice' and 'not nice', and how they respond.

A Cat's Gotta Scratch ...

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Research shows that if a scratching post is available, cats will use it.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Scratching is a normal behaviour for a cat, but can be problematic for owners if a cat chooses to scratch the wrong items. A new study by Manuel Mengoli et al in Italy investigates feline scratching behaviour amongst a mixed sample of cats.


Cats scratch for a variety of reasons, including communicating with other cats via visible scratch marks and olfactory signals left behind from glands in the plantar pads. It may also keep their claws sharp and healthy. Although scratching is a normal behaviour, it can also be a sign of stress. As the authors say, “the use of scratching as a marking signal is normal in a wide territory, but when it is observed repeatedly inside the house, it is reasonable to conclude that the animal is not feeling safe in that specific environment.”

Cat owners were recruited via vet clinics and the departments of Psychology and Veterinary Medicine at the University of Padua.…