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Showing posts from January, 2014

The Street Dogs of Bangkok

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If you’ve ever been to Bangkok, you will have noticed stray dogs and cats loitering on the street corners. Some are well fed, but many are scrawny, flea-ridden, and have old injuries. While many sleep away the day, others are tricky for pedestrians to navigate. New research by Nikki Savvides investigates the relationship between people and street dogs in the capital of Thailand.

Thai people’s attitudes to animals are shaped by Theravada Buddhism, including a belief that killing animals is wrong. Although most Thai people eat meat and fish, there is a vegetarian festival in the month of October, when for ten days people ‘ginjeh’ (eat vegetarian). There are spirit houses outside most buildings, where Thai people light incense and make offerings of flowers, food and other items. Acts of kindness towards animals, such as feeding strays or releasing birds from cages, are a way to ‘make merit’ (tam bon) for the next life. Stray dogs and cats are sometimes taken to Buddhist temples where the…

Me and My Dog: Is the Feeling Mutual?

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You know you love your dog. Those gorgeous eyes that gaze up at you, the way she runs to greet you when you get home from work, and that cute way she drops the leash in your lap when it’s time for walkies. It’s all adorable. But does your dog feel the same way about you?

A new study by Therese Rehn et al (2014) investigates whether or not there is a link between how an owner feels about their relationship, and how the dog feels. Twenty dog-owner pairs took part. The people were aged from 17 to 69 years old, and the dogs were mostly around four years old. The dogs were companion animals and had all lived with their owner for at least six months.

Of course it’s easy to find out how owners feel about their dogs: you ask them. The researchers used a questionnaire called the Monash Dog Owner Relationship Scale (MDORS). Since the study took place in Sweden, it was translated into Swedish.
But you can’t just ask a dog. Instead the researchers used a measure of attachment called the Strange …

Dangerous Dogs: Time for a Rethink?

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What are the risk factors for aggression in dogs? New research suggests it’s time to stop thinking of dogs as either ‘safe’ or ‘dangerous’. In most cases canine aggression seems to be a learned response to a particular situation, not a personality characteristic, since a dog that growls or bites in one situation may not do so in other contexts.

Do Dogs with Baby Expressions get Adopted Sooner, and What Does it Say about Domestication?

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Cute eyebrow movements by dogs influence people’s choice of canine companion.

Theories about the domestication of dogs from wolves suggest that baby-like faces are a by-product of humans selecting for other features. But is it possible they were deliberately selected? A new study in PLoS One by Bridget Waller et al (University of Portsmouth) investigates.
Selecting animals for behavioural traits can end up having unexpected effects on physical characteristics, as shown in the silver fox study by Dimitri K. Belyaev in Siberia. Young foxes were tested to see how they responded to a person, and the least fearful ones were chosen for breeding.

Eventually, after forty generations of breeding, the foxes became tame and domesticated. Even though they were selected for behaviour, they had physical changes such as floppy ears, curly tails, blue eyes, different coat colours, less of a ‘foxy’ smell, and a longer socialization period. (You can read more in this blog by Jason Goldman on Scientific…

Do Children Benefit from Animals in the Classroom?

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Many school classrooms have an animal, whether it’s a fish, rabbit or guinea pig. A new study in Australia by Marguerite O’Haire (University of Queensland) et al investigates whether an eight-week program involving a guinea pig in class leads to improved social skills and a reduction in problem behaviours.

Schools that wanted to take part in the project were divided into two groups, one that received the program and one that was wait-listed. This meant the two groups could be compared. The children were aged between 4 and 12 years old. Teachers and parents completed questionnaires about children at the start and end of the program.
Eighty-two guinea pigs took part in the study. Guinea pigs were chosen because they are friendly, easy to look after, and would likely be happy in the school environment. Each classroom received two guinea pigs, because they are social creatures and need the company of a conspecific.
The researchers chose classrooms that included children with Autism Spectr…