20 August 2014

Summer Break / Summer Reading

Golden retriever puppies play on the beach
Photo: otsphoto / Shutterstick

Companion Animal Psychology Blog is taking a summer break. Meanwhile, on twitter and facebook we continue to share links to the best writing about companion animals and their people. Why not join us?

If you’re looking for some summer reading (and listening and viewing), these are some of our favourites:

We’re delighted that some CAPB stories now appear in Pacific Standard, including Dog Training, Animal Welfare and the Human-Canine Relationship 

Wild behaviour: The science of cats in boxes is explored in this Human Animal Science podcast with Sandra McCune.

We can’t resist this video from Japan of a cat falling asleep on a watermelon

Suddenly It’s Different is a beautiful post by Helen Verte of Love Wags a Tail.

A Contract with Your Dog by Maureen Backman at Mutt AboutTown 

In Husbandry for Paws: The Finale Heidi Steinbeck of Great Shakes Dog Training demonstrates how to trim a dog’s nails.  

Finally, every week Malcolm Campbell publishes a list of the best science writing on the web in Morsels for the Mind. There are always plenty of great animal stories. On his own blog, we especially enjoyed Seeing eye to eye – humans, dogs and squid stare across an evolutionary divide 
Companion Animal Psychology Blog will be back on 3rd September.  

13 August 2014

The Effects of Owner Experience and Housing on Argentine Dogos

An Argentine Dogo dog sits in the garden
Photo: Lakatos Sandor / Shutterstock
What are the effects of an owner’s prior dog experience and the dog’s housing on behaviour problems? A survey of people with Argentine Dogos investigates.

Some previous research has suggested people who are first-time dog owners are more likely to have a dog with behaviour problems, perhaps because they don’t have enough experience. Also, sometimes people say breed experience is helpful. The aim of this study was to investigate this by looking at only one breed of dog, the Argentine Dogo.  

This breed was chosen because it was affected by dangerous dog legislation in Italy and, as the researchers put it, “was publicly blamed for posing a risk to human society.” Hence, it is an interesting choice for investigating the relationship between dogs and their owners.

The survey, conducted by Silvana Diverio (Perugia University) and Gabriella Tami, was completed by 94 owners who between them had 181 Argentine Dogos. Participants were recruited via the Italian Dogo Argentine Club and at dog shows. Given the method of recruitment, it’s not surprising that 23% of participants were breeders. In fact the participants had 22% of all the registered Argentine Dogos in Italy, with an additional group of unregistered dogs.

Questions asked about the owner’s prior dog experience, prior experience with the breed, and whether the dog lived in the owner’s apartment or was housed in a kennel. Questions on behaviour problems included aggression (“baring teeth, growling, snapping and biting”) and fear (“dog showing low posture with low or tucked tail and ears back or down, eventually trembling and/or attempting to escape”).  The survey was part of a wider study into Argentine Dogos and their owners in Italy.

One interesting feature of this study is that 79% of the owners with prior breed experience had obtained their dogs in order to breed them. The breed-experienced owners were significantly less likely to keep their dog in the house and less likely to take it to dog training classes than owners who had no prior experience with Argentine Dogos. The ‘na├»ve’ owners typically got their dog for reasons of companionship.

The dogs belonging to owners without prior dog experience were more likely to be destructive, to be afraid of other dogs, and to mount people – but they were also more likely to be obedient. These owners were more likely to take their dogs to training classes, and this is probably why their dogs were more obedient. It’s possible the reported problems reflect the fact that the dogs were living with their family, and hence more likely to be in situations where these problems might be observed, or it could be that inexperienced owners are not as good at socializing their dogs.

The results for owners who were new to the breed were similar to those of people who were new to dogs in general. Again, these owners were more likely to take their dogs to training classes and to say their dogs were obedient. And while they were more likely to report fear of children, their dogs were also reported as friendlier to strangers and unknown dogs, compared to the dogs belonging to breed-experienced people.

The dogs of breed-experienced owners were more likely to live in kennels.

The authors say,
“Aggressive and protective behaviors may simply result from the reduced opportunities that these confined dogs have to interact with people. Dogs who lived in kennels were also likely to be associated with breeding and with being owned by an expert owner. Expert owners reported lower participation in obedience training classes.”

The types of behaviour problems also changed with age, with younger dogs more likely to be reported as destructive and older dogs more likely to be reported aggressive to other dogs. 

The study is correlational and does not show causality. In addition, the inter-relationship of variables makes it tricky to pinpoint the effects of experience with dogs. Perhaps rather than showing the effects of experience, the results reflect the fact that attendance at dog training classes, and living in proximity with the family (rather than in a kennel), are positive for dogs’ behaviour and welfare. 

This is an interesting study and shows that more research is needed into the effects of owners’ general dog experience and breed experience. 

What breed was your first dog, and why did you choose it?

P.S. Finding out if shelter dogs are friendly and can street dogs become good pets?

Diverio, S., & Tami, G. (2014). Effect of owner experience, living environment, and dog characteristics on owner reports of behavior of Argentine Dogos in Italy Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 9 (4), 151-157

06 August 2014

Is it Important to Attend Puppy Class?

Is a one-off puppy party a suitable alternative to a six-week puppy class? Research says you can’t skip the socialization if you want a well-rounded adult dog.

Two cute Malamute puppies play and climb on a wall

A study by Ai Kutsumi et al (2013) of the Azabu University Graduate School of Veterinary Science compares four groups of dogs: those who attended a six-week puppy class, those who went to a one-hour puppy party, those who attended a six-week adult dog training class, and those who didn’t attend any puppy or training class at all. 

Dogs who attended the 6-week puppy class or the adult dog training class scored significantly better on response to commands, showing that dogs can learn obedience commands at any age.

Dogs who had been to puppy class were significantly more likely to give a positive response to a stranger than those who had been to just a one-hour puppy party or not attended any classes at all. They also tended to do better than those who had only been to adult dog training. This shows that the socialization aspect of puppy class is important for the dog’s future behaviour.

The scientists say,
“the behaviour test showed that participation in puppy class contributes to improving the positive response of the dog to strangers. This indicates that if an ordinary companion puppy participates in a puppy class for socialization at about 4 months of age, the dog is likely to remain friendly to non-family members at an acceptable level.” 
The one-hour puppy party arose because puppy class is not that popular in Japan, according to the scientists. However these results show that it is not a substitute for the socialization that occurs during a 6-week puppy class.

142 dogs took part and the groups were about equivalent in terms of age, gender, and breed mix. The dogs were aged between 6 months and 3 years at the time of testing. The study included a questionnaire and a 30-minute behaviour test at the dog’s home.

Why it is important to attend puppy class
Photo: omystory; top, Zuzule; both Shutterstock.com

The puppy class, adult class and puppy party all took place at the SIRIUS Dog Training School Japan. The puppy class curriculum included basic training commands as well as bite inhibition, house training, and socialization with the other puppies and their owners. The puppy party was equivalent to just the first session of puppy class. The adult dog training class covered basic obedience for dogs aged from 5 months to 2 years.

All of the classes were force-free and used positive reinforcement, and class sizes were small (4-8 puppies and 2-5 adult dogs). 

The results also showed links between behaviour tests and scores on the Japanese version of C-BARQ, a questionnaire designed to assess behaviour traits. If dogs had a C-BARQ score that suggests fear of strangers, they gave a less positive response to a stranger in the behavioural test. Also, there was a correlation between Trainability scores on the C-BARQ and the results on the behavioural test for response to commands. The researchers say this means that C-BARQ scores can be useful in detecting signs of problems that require intervention.

In addition, ongoing socialization with people and dogs, and more frequent training sessions, were all positive for the dog’s behaviour.

If you are looking for a dog trainer, whether for puppy class, adult obedience or behaviour problems, check out my article on how to choose a good dog trainer.

The results of this study show that attending puppy class is important for socialization with other puppies and people. Although a 1-hour puppy party might sound like an attractive option, it does not have the same beneficial results for the dog’s future friendliness.

If you've ever taken a pup to puppy class, or you're a dog trainer, what do you like best about puppy class?

P.S. How to choose the right puppy in 4 easy steps and make your dog happy: puppy class!

KUTSUMI, A., NAGASAWA, M., OHTA, M., & OHTANI, N. (2013). Importance of Puppy Training for Future Behavior of the Dog Journal of Veterinary Medical Science, 75 (2), 141-149 DOI: 10.1292/jvms.12-0008
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