28 December 2015

The Posts of the Year 2015

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! Good health and happiness to all our readers in 2016.

These were the top posts of 2015. Which were your favourite? And what would you like to see covered here in 2016?

1. Different dog breeds, different sensitive period?

A study of three breeds finds differences in the sensitive period, and shows socialization should begin before you even take your puppy home. - See more at: http://www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2015/04/different-dog-breeds-different.html#sthash.yaKUk2kL.dpuf
A study of three breeds finds differences in the sensitive period, and shows socialization should begin before you even take your puppy home.

2. Re-arranging metaphors for dogs

The problems with the wolf pack metaphor go deeper than you think.

3. What do young children learn from pets?
What do young children learn from pets?

Is a better understanding of biology something that young children learn from dogs and cats?

4. Where do cats like to be stroked?
Where do cats like to be stroked?

People expect cats to enjoy affection, but what's the cat's opinion?

5. Six ways to entertain your dog indoors.
Six ways to entertain your dog indoors

When walks are limited, these ideas will help you tire out your dog.

6. Do hand-reared wolves get attached to their humans?
Do hand-reared wolves get attached to their humans?

Researchers test the bond between captive wolves and the humans who rear them.

7. Do dogs prefer petting or praise?
Do dogs prefer petting or praise?

A new study asks dogs to make the choice.

8. Why you need to socialize your puppy.
Why you need to socialize your puppy

The importance of socialization can't be stressed enough.

9. The right to walk away.
The right to walk away for dogs and cats

What can pet owners learn from the way scientists give animals choices in research?

10. Where do people get information about dog training?
Where do people get information about dog training?

Can people be blamed for dog training mistakes when there is so much erroneous information out there?

Photo credits, top to bottom: Seregraff; JLSnader; Zanna Holstova; elista; wongwean; Mike  Focus; Geoffrey Kuchera; Felix Rohan; Lex-Art; Shapiro Svetlana; Terry Watt. All shutterstock.com.

21 December 2015

Season's Greetings!

Season's Greetings from Companion Animal Psychology

Happy Holidays
and a very Happy New Year
to all our readers
Companion Animal Psychology.

16 December 2015

Make Your Dog Happy: Puppy Class!

Going to puppy class could be the best investment you make in your dog. Here's why you should go and what to look for in a class.

A St. Bernard puppy in the snow... why puppies should go to puppy class

Puppy classes provide important socialization opportunities and early learning experiences for puppies up to 5 months old. Puppy class is not just about training, it’s also (even mostly) about socialization.

Puppy Class and  Socialization

Socialization matters because dogs go through a developmental stage when happy, positive experiences with new people, dogs and things are important, and help to set them up to be happy, calm adult dogs. We know this because studies that kept puppies in isolation (e.g. Freedman, King and Elliot 1961) found they became very fearful.

Many dog trainers have socialization checklists, like this one from the late Dr. Sophia Yin that includes unfamiliar people and dogs, body handling, surfaces and sounds to which puppies should be socialized. 

We don’t know exactly when the sensitive period for socialization ends, and it may be different for different breeds (Morrow et al 2015), so we want to try and do as much socialization as possible before about 12 weeks.  

At puppy class, your pup gets to meet new people (including the other people at the class, the trainer and the assistant(s)). That’s a few people checked off your socialization list already! 

In addition, they meet the other puppies and get to play with them. As well as meeting unknown dogs, the play opportunities allow them to practice their doggy social skills and learn bite inhibition.

Up to a third of puppies do not get enough socialization opportunities, but people who attend puppy class expose their dog to more people, other dogs, and stimuli (such as children and sirens) than those who don't.

Chow Chow  puppy... why going to puppy class is a good idea

The Importance of Positive Experiences

The important thing about socialization is that experiences should be positive ones. Sometimes people force their puppy into greetings even if they are shy and don’t want to meet; or complete strangers want to pet the cute puppy, and may not notice if the pup is scared. 

Similarly, any play opportunities must also be positive for all the puppies involved. If you're not sure, the trainer should do a consent test and separate the puppies; if a puppy that appeared to be being victimized runs back to play, you know it was okay. But if they don't, keep them separate. A good trainer will ensure none of the puppies get bullied, and will use barriers or x-pens as needed.

"Puppy class is the single most important thing you'll do in your puppy's lifetime"
 - Jody Karow CTC

If there’s one rule about puppies, it’s that you should never ever terrify them. 

Signs of fear, anxiety and stress include hiding, trembling, seeking out people, a low body posture, a tucked tail, and urinating. (For more on these signs, including some body language practice, see how can I tell if my dog is afraid?).

If your puppy is shy, that’s fine. Don’t force them into interactions they’re not comfortable with. 

What to Look For in a Puppy Class

A good puppy class will ensure that all the puppies are having a good time by keeping shy puppies away from more boisterous ones, and letting puppies hide by their owners if they want to. As the weeks go by, your puppy will get more confident. 

Jody Karow, founder of DogSense Online, says 
Puppy class is the single most important thing you'll do in your puppy's lifetime and is loads of fun for all. You'll want lots of off leash play opportunity during class with other young compatible puppies. We want everything about puppy class to be fun! Socialization is the top priority for your puppy’s first class.  
“Look for a class that focuses on puppies learning many new experiences are safe and fun. There will be plenty of time to teach proper manners and obedience behaviors. Puppy class is your opportunity to have a controlled environment for many first and early experiences. This allows us to ensure your puppy enjoys many things life in our modern world offers.  
“Think Kindergarten, it's all about the fun!"

In some places there’s a trend for puppy party, a one-off session at which your puppy plays with other puppies and meets the other people in the class. This sounds like a good alternative, but one study (Kutsumi et al 2013) found it does not offer the same benefits. Dogs who had attended a six-week puppy class not only performed better in response to commands, but were also friendlier to strangers compared to those who did not attend or who only attended a puppy party.

Because dog training is not licensed, choose your puppy class carefully. Remember the rule about not frightening puppies, and avoid anyone who uses aversives like leash corrections, choke or prong collars. See my article on how to choose a good dog trainer.

The Benefits of Puppy Class

Puppy class can be a great way to provide socialization opportunities in a safe environment.

A good puppy class does not guarantee that your dog will never be fearful (e.g. genetics and early experiences before you bring them home also play a role) but it will go a long way to helping you meet your puppy’s socialization needs. 

What do you most enjoy about puppy class?

Freedman, D., King, J., & Elliot, O. (1961). Critical Period in the Social Development of Dogs Science, 133 (3457), 1016-1017 DOI: 10.1126/science.133.3457.1016  
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  
Morrow, M., Ottobre, J., Ottobre, A., Neville, P., St-Pierre, N., Dreschel, N., & Pate, J. (2015). Breed-dependent differences in the onset of fear-related avoidance behavior in puppies Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 10 (4), 286-294 DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2015.03.002
Photo: Rita Kochmarjova (top) and Eric Isselee (Shutterstock.com)
You might also like:
The right to walk away
De-stressing with a puppy for parents of children with autism
On puppies, pet stores and behaviour problems

Companion Animal Psychology is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

09 December 2015

Illustrating Companion Animal Psychology: Favourite Photos

A selection of favourite photos from the blog.

One of the things I enjoy about writing Companion Animal Psychology is picking out the photo for each week’s post. I wait until I’ve finished the first draft, and choose the photo before I go back to edit. It feels like a treat to browse through the images.

Most of the time I’m looking for a photo in which the animal is happy and relaxed. Although there are some gorgeous studio shots, I tend to prefer more realistic settings. There are some stories for which any puppy or kitten would do, but other posts need something specific. Sometimes it’s not obvious what kind of photo is best to illustrate a story, and then I’m looking for some kind of connection, a metaphorical thread that links the visual to the prose. 

Animals, pets and vermin
pjmorley (Shutterstock.com)

This photo of the mouse scampering away from the sleeping cat makes me smile. I used it to illustrate a story about the role of animals in everyday life, based on research from the Mass Observation Project (Animals, Pets and Vermin). 

Rearranging metaphors for dogs
Zanna Holstova (Shutterstock.com)

I wrote a post about the problems with the metaphor of the wolf pack as applied to dogs. Following Eva Feder Kittay’s idea that metaphor works by “re-arranging the furniture of the mind”, I said “We need to re-arrange the furniture and consign the pack metaphor to gather dust in the attic.” This photo of the two Basenjis looking uncomfortable on the settee is a perfect match. The one behind looks a little squashed, and both would be more comfortable if they re-arranged themselves. I also like the three different fabrics of the settee, throw and cushions, and the bookshelves behind. (Re-arranging metaphors for dogs). 

Can cats and coyotes co-exist?
taviphoto (Shutterstock.com)

I like this photo of two outdoor cats doing their own thing, the front one looking towards the camera, the other having a wash. The beautiful autumn foliage is a nice bonus. (Can cats and coyotes co-exist?).

If you lead a Lab to water, should you let them swim?
Photo: Bhakpong (Shutterstock.com)

I love this photo. The look on the Lab’s face is delightful. And this dog is very relaxed in the water. I love the colours in this one too. (If you lead a Lab to water, should you let them swim?)

Positive reinforcement and dog training: Little dogs
OLJStudio (Shutterstock.com)

I love the interaction between the young woman and her little Pomeranian. They are dancing together in matching pink outfits. It’s from a post on research about whether people treat little dogs differently than big dogs. (Positive reinforcement and dog training: Little dogs vs big dogs).  

I use stock photos so I know I have the rights to use the images, and you will always find a credit to the photographer in the blog post. It was incredibly hard picking just 7 photos for this post, because I love all the photos I use.

How clever do you think your dog is?
DragoNika (Shutterstock.com)

I had to include a puppy photo, and this one is adorable. Not just framed by flowers, but interacting with them by biting on the branch. The story is about how clever people think dogs are, and this one is delightfully balmy. (How clever do you think your dog is?).

Thank you to Companion Animal Psychology readers
Linn Currie (shutterstock.com)

This chinchilla golden Persian kitten is cute and playful, and I love the bold colours. Something about the fabric reminds me of the upholstery on seats on English buses and trains in times gone by. I used this photo on social media to say thank you to everyone who reads, likes, shares and retweets my blog. It's the support and encouragement from readers like you that makes it all worthwhile.

02 December 2015

Enrichment for Goldfish

What keeps goldfish happy in their tank – and how do we know?

A goldfish swims in a tank with lots of artificial and real plants

You’ve heard about the importance of enrichment for companion animals (like dogs) and for zoo animals, but what about goldfish? Fish are the third most popular pet - kept by 12.3 million households in the US - so it’s an important topic for animal welfare. Different types of fish might have different preferences. A new study by Miriam Sullivan (University of Western Australia) et al investigates.

Enrichment “is particularly important for goldfish and other pet fish for two main reasons,” Miriam Sullivan told me. “One, people tend to underestimate how smart fish are, which probably means they spend less time and effort on enrichment for their fish compared to other pets like cats and dogs.”

“And two, fish health is really closely connected to their environment. If fish are stressed out due to a poor environment (e.g. if they lack shelter or you didn’t clean out the tank!) then they become more susceptible to bacterial infections and other diseases.”

So how do we even know what goldfish want? One way is to use a motivational test – something that requires an effort, so you can objectively measure how much effort they will put in to get a particular resource. 

For example, an earlier study with Tilapia (Galhardo et al 2011) involved training the fish to touch and push a door with their snout to access different resources; increasingly bigger weights were added to the door to find out just how motivated they were. 

But this study tries a different method that needs no training – using successively greater currents to find out how hard goldfish will swim to access a resource. This method is especially appropriate for goldfish because domestication has affected their swimming ability. As a slow water fish, swimming against a current is hard work.

20 young Comet Goldfish (Carrassius auratus) took part. Fish were individually placed in the empty middle section of a special testing tank. On one side was a compartment with artificial plants, and on the other, a compartment with real plants. The plants were Bacopa and Ambulia, and the artificial versions were cut to size to match the real ones.  

Half of the fish had the real plants on the left side, and half on the right, in case of a left or right preference. And in fact 14 of the fish turned left first, but they did not spend extra time on the left overall. The fish preferred to spend time in a compartment with plants – real or artificial – and only spent 10% of the time in the empty part of the tank.

For the motivation test, fish were placed in a tank where they had to swim through a tunnel against a current to get to either real or artificial plants or empty space. If they went through the tunnel, the current was increased on successive occasions to see how hard they would swim. In between each trial they had a couple of days rest. 

11 of 19 goldfish swam against even the strongest current for all three options. Of the remaining 8 fish, 2 preferred the empty space, 3 preferred real plants, and 3 preferred either type of plant.

“The main implication for goldfish owners is that it doesn’t matter if you use fake plants,” says Dr. Sullivan. “This is good news because goldfish just love to destroy things, so it can be really hard to keep live plants alive.”

“The only caveat to this is that in some of my other thesis research, I found that goldfish owners tend to be newer owners who don’t always clean their tank or maintain good water quality. If you aren’t able or willing to keep your water super clean, then you should still use live plants because they help keep your water clean. But if you’ve got everything else right, relax and throw in some fake plants!”

Dr. Sullivan also suggests that you rotate enrichment items just like you would for other animals. 

Her other tip for happy fish? “Buy the biggest tank you can afford. My research and lots of other emerging research is starting to suggest that swimming is really important for fish behaviour and health.”

Which explains why most goldfish were willing to keep swimming to empty space, as well as to plants.

What kinds of enrichment do you provide for your fish?

Galhardo, L., Almeida, O., & Oliveira, R. (2011). Measuring motivation in a cichlid fish: An adaptation of the push-door paradigm Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 130 (1-2), 60-70 DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2010.12.008  
Sullivan, M., Lawrence, C., & Blache, D. (2015). Why did the fish cross the tank? Objectively measuring the value of enrichment for captive fish Applied Animal Behaviour Science DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2015.10.011
Photo: The Gallery (Shutterstock.com)

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25 November 2015

Reader Survey: Please Take Part!

Would you like to help with some research on who reads science blogs like this one? ***Edit: The survey is now closed. Thank you to everyone who took part!***

I’ve teamed up with Science Borealis, Dr. Paige Jarreau (Louisiana State University) and 20 other Canadian science bloggers to conduct a broad survey of the readers of Canadian blogs. Together we are trying to find out who reads Canadian science blogs, where they come from, whether or not Canadian-specific content is important to them, and where they go for trustworthy, accurate science news and information.

Your feedback will also help me learn more about who reads Companion Animal Psychology. People from anywhere in the world can take part, whether you’re a regular reader or you’ve only read one or two posts.

It will take around 5 minutes, and the survey is here.

Participants will be entered to win one of 11 prizes (a $50 Chapters gift card, a $20 surprise gift card, 3 Science Borealis T-shirts and 6 surprise gifts). In addition, everyone who completes the survey will receive a free hi-resolution science photograph from Paige’s Photography.

The deadline is December 14th. Thank you in advance for your participation!

A cat and a puppy complete the survey of readers
Photo: Rita Kochmarjova (Shutterstock.com)

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18 November 2015

Education about Cats may Reduce Feline Behaviour Problems

Behavioural advice for people with a new kitten is linked to a better-behaved pet at 1 year old.

A tabby cat fast asleep on a chair

A new pet can be hard work, and if people don’t fully understand the needs of their animals, behaviour problems can result. A new study investigates whether education for owners at their first vet appointment is the answer. 

People with a new kitten (3 months old) were given 25 minutes of standardized advice on caring for cats. The study, by Angelo Gazzano et al (University of Pisa) compared the behaviour of these cats at just over 1 year old with that of a control group where no behavioural advice was given.

The authors say, “providing simple, relatively short advice at the very beginning of a kitten-owner relationship is not only important in pleasing the owners, protecting cat welfare, and [the] cat-owner relationship but also in offering a complete service to the owners.” 

The education was given by a vet behaviourist and took 25 minutes. It included advice on cat behaviour, such as the need to habituate kittens to social and non-social stimuli and provide environmental enrichment, as well as advice on how to train and manage a cat, including litter box issues and getting the cat used to being handled as in a vet consult.

91 cats took part in the study; 45 whose owners received the behavioural advice, and 46 cats in a control group. 

For the group given behavioural advice, only 2 owners consulted someone about a behaviour problem (one asked the breeder and another asked a veterinary behaviourist). In the control group, 21 cat owners asked for advice about their cat’s behaviour: of these, 43% asked their vet, 19% asked a vet behaviourist, and 10% consulted the internet or scientific literature.

This is reflected in people’s complaints about their cat. People in the no-advice group were much more likely to have at least one complaint about their cat’s behaviour (46%) compared to those in the advice group (4%).

One of the most striking differences is in how people fed their cat. In the no-advice group, 39% fed when the cat asked to be fed, 30% fed their cat twice a day and 30% fed three or more times a day. However, in the advice group, 71% of people fed three or more times a day, suggesting they had taken the vet behaviourist’s advice on board. (Domestic cats prefer several small meals a day - see International Cat Care). 

How to prevent feline behavior problems with information about cats
Photo: IrynaBu; top, Acon Cheng (both Shutterstock.com)

In the advice group, cats were more likely to only go on some furniture or just on the furniture they were allowed on. In the no-advice group, cats were more likely to climb curtains. There were no differences in scratching furniture. “Excessive vocalization” was more common in the no-advice group. 

The cats in the advice group were more tolerant of being touched. Although both groups of cats were sociable, the no-advice group were more likely to seek physical contact when the owner was on the bed or sofa. Cats in the behavioural advice group were more likely to greet the owner when they came home. Although there were no differences in kneading or licking, cats in the advice group were reported to rub more often on their owner, and to seek physical contact more often.

One potential confound is that cats in the behavioural advice group were more likely to be allowed outdoors. This could make a difference, because indoors-only cats are more likely to get bored and lack environmental enrichment, and hence may be more likely to have behaviour problems. It’s possible the behavioural advice prompted people to allow their cats time outdoors, especially since the study was in Italy where outdoor cats are common, but we don’t know.

It would be nice to know whether the behavioural advice prompted people to behave differently (aside from the feeding regime). For example, did it mean people were more likely to buy scratching posts, pay attention to provision of litter trays, and spend more time playing with their cat? Were they more understanding of any feline indiscretions? This would be a great topic for follow-up research.

These results are interesting and suggest that providing information to new cat owners is beneficial, which is good news for those who hope to improve animal welfare through education.

What advice do you wish you had been given before you got a cat?

*Full disclosure: one of my cats climbs the bedroom curtains. She is allowed.

Gazzano, A., Bianchi, L., Campa, S., & Mariti, C. (2015). The prevention of undesirable behaviors in cats: Effectiveness of veterinary behaviorists' advice given to kitten owners Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2015.07.042
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Your cat would like food puzzle toys
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Does playtime for cats reduce behaviour problems?

Companion Animal Psychology is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
Companion Animal Psychology is also a participant in the Etsy Affiliate Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Etsy.com.

04 November 2015

Large Study Finds No Evidence for "Black Dog Syndrome"

A study of over 16,000 adoptable dogs finds black dogs don’t take longer to be adopted after all.

A black French Bulldog relaxing on her bed

Understanding what people look for in adoptable dogs can make a big difference to animal shelters. It makes sense to target promotions in order to stop dogs having lengthy stays. But you can only do this if you know what people want. 

The idea that black dogs wait longer for a new home than dogs of other colours has been around for a while. New research by Heather Svoboda and Christy Hoffman (Canisius College) suggests it does not exist, at least at the two shelters they surveyed.

Christy Hoffman told me, “We did not find evidence of Black Dog Syndrome, but we did find that shelter outcomes tended to be worse for brindle dogs and, not surprisingly, bully breeds. A relatively recent paper by Brown et al. (2013) also concluded black dogs do not have worse than average shelter outcomes. I wonder if, perhaps, Black Dog Syndrome was never a problem, or if all the marketing efforts to promote black dogs have actually reversed the trend.

Black dogs did not take longer to be adopted at either of the two shelters taking part in this study. In fact, brindle dogs had a longer wait at both shelters, and multi-colour dogs also took longer at one of the shelters. Black dogs were not more likely to be euthanized. Age and breed group were more important than coat colour when it came to adoptability.

Even though all the dogs in the study were adults, the younger ones were still adopted more quickly. Females were adopted faster than males.

Does 'black dog syndrome' exist? This large study found no evidence that black dogs - like this French Bulldog - take longer to be adopted from shelters.
The bully breeds took longest to be adopted at both shelters, and were more likely to be euthanized or considered untreatable-unhealthy. This is in contrast to the earlier work by Brown et al which – while also finding no evidence for Black Dog Syndrome – did not find bully breeds waited longer for a new home. 

At both shelters Terriers and Toy breeds were adopted most quickly, but there were some differences in the relative popularity of other breeds.

Svoboda and Hoffman suggest shelters take a look at their own data to find out which dogs wait longest at their location. They can then devise targeted promotional strategies to help increase adoption rates and reduce euthanasia.

One of the great things about this study is the size of the dataset: 16,692 dogs over four years at two animal shelters in the Pacific NorthWest. Because puppies and young dogs are already known to be adopted faster, they focussed on dogs over 1 year old, and less than 13. Dogs that came in and were adopted out between 1st Jan 2009 and 31st December 2012, and for whom all the necessary data was available, were included in the study. 

The results are especially interesting given different intake policies. Shelter A, which houses over 100 dogs, has a managed intake policy, which means they decide which animals to take. About half their dogs come from other shelters and 30% are surrendered by their owner. Shelter B has space for 60 dogs, and is ‘open admission’ which means they take any animal. Owner surrenders and strays make up 60% of their intake, with most of the rest coming from other shelters.

The average length of time a dog was available for adoption at shelter A was 7 days, and 10 days at shelter B.

This study shows the importance of looking closely at adoption data, and the results will surprise many people.

What do you look for when adopting a dog? 

Companion Animal Psychology is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com 

Brown, W., Davidson, J., & Zuefle, M. (2013). Effects of Phenotypic Characteristics on the Length of Stay of Dogs at Two No Kill Animal Shelters Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 16 (1), 2-18 DOI: 10.1080/10888705.2013.740967  
Svoboda, H., & Hoffman, C. (2015). Investigating the role of coat colour, age, sex, and breed on outcomes for dogs at two animal shelters in the United States Animal Welfare, 24 (4), 497-506 DOI: 10.7120/09627286.24.4.497

Photos: Istvan Csak (top) and Irina Kozorog (both shutterstock.com)
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Companion Animal Psychology...

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