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Showing posts from March, 2013

Happy Birthday!

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Companion Animal Psychology Blog is celebrating its first anniversary! Thank you to all our lovely readers for the encouragement and support.

We will continue to publish every Wednesday at 5.30am Pacific Time (1.30pm in the UK). See you on Wednesday!

By Zazie Todd, PhD


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What about the rabbits? How do pet rabbits end up in shelters?

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Owner surrender is a common reason, but Easter is not the most common time for rabbits to arrive at shelters, according to this research.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Rabbits are popular pets because they are intelligent and fun, will cuddle with you, and can learn to use a litter tray. But while everyone knows there is a crisis of homeless dogs and cats, what about rabbits? A recent study by Amelia Cook and Emily McCobb (Tufts University) set out to see how many pet rabbits end up in animal shelters, and what happens once they are there.


Four animal shelter sites in Rhode Island and Providence took part, some with more than one physical shelter location. Cook and McCobb looked at the records for a six year period from 2005 to 2010. They excluded any rabbits that were found to be wild or that were already dead on intake (unfortunately some were dead on arrival). A total of 5,408 live domestic rabbits were taken in at the shelters during this time.

Rabbits had the third highest intake level of co…

Frustration in Pet Dog Training

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Do dogs get frustrated during extinction trials? Researchers put this to the test.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Does your dog ever seem frustrated when you are trying to train him? A new study by Adriana Jakovcevic and colleagues looks at frustration behaviours in pet dogs during training sessions. They looked specifically at something called extinction. This is when the dog has a behaviour that you want to get rid of (i.e. extinguish) for one reason or another.

Dogs do things that get rewarded and so the way to extinguish a behaviour is to stop rewarding it. For example, many people find jumping up annoying, but actually reward it by patting the dog or speaking to it when it jumps. Hence, the dog keeps jumping. When you stop rewarding the behaviour, it will stop.
The experiment involved teaching dogs a new behaviour (looking at the experimenter) using positive reinforcement, and then trying to extinguish it. Forty-five pet dogs took part. They were tested individually, either indoors in a confin…

Do Dogs Find Their Owners Presence Supportive When a Threatening Stranger Comes Near?

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By Zazie Todd, PhD
How does your dog compare to a toddler? Recent animal research is comparing the abilities of dogs with young humans. A brand new study by Márta Gácsi et al in Hungary investigates whether dogs have the same response as infants to a test called the Strange Situation.
In humans, attachment theory explains how children need to develop a strong attachment to at least one caregiver. If they don’t, their social and emotional development will be disrupted. As infants begin to crawl, the caregiver is a ‘secure base’ from which to explore. 
Mary Ainsworth developed the Strange Situation as a way of investigating attachment. This is a standardized procedure in which the infant is in a room with their caregiver when a stranger comes in. Following a strict protocol, the baby is left alone with the stranger, then comforted by the caregiver, left all alone, then joined by the stranger again. An infant that is securely attached will be upset when the caregiver leaves the room, but …

What influences a dog's length of stay at a no-kill animal shelter?

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Are some types of dog adopted more quickly from animal shelters than others?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

A study by William Brown and colleagues at Keuka College looked at two no-kill shelters in New York State in order to answer this question.


A no-kill shelter is one that will only kill animals that are too ill or too bad-natured to be adopted; some of them will even work with animals to try and resolve behavioural problems before assessing them again. There are very few no-kill shelters in the US; most shelters and municipal animal controls will euthanize dogs for reasons such as lack of space. 
Brown et al looked at the shelter records from January 2008 until sometime in either 2010 or 2011 (different for each shelter). This gave a total of 203 dogs that had been adopted in that time. They categorized the dogs according to the information on the record cards, looking at age, breed, size and colour. 
The colours were very descriptive (e.g. apricot, butterscotch) and so they reduced them to n…