Showing posts from February, 2015

Why You Need to Socialize Your Puppy

The importance of socialization can’t be stressed enough. Here's how we know - and what it means for puppy owners. By Zazie Todd, PhD These days, more and more people understand that puppies need to be socialized. But sometimes people wonder, how do we know this? It’s based on classic research in canine science. What does science tell us about the need to socialize puppies? Many papers contribute to our understanding of puppies. In 1950, J.P. Scott and Mary-‘Vesta Marston published a study of 17 litters, including the earliest age at which they opened their eyes for the first time, began to walk, and engaged in play. They hypothesized there were critical periods in canine development.  In 1959, C.J. Pfaffenberger and J.P. Scott noticed that puppies being raised to be guide dogs were more likely to fail their training if they were kept in kennels for longer and missed some early socialization. Then in 1961, Daniel Freedman, John King and Orville Elliott publi

What Do Young Children Learn From Pets?

Is a better understanding of biology something children can learn from dogs and cats? Photo: elista/Shutterstock By Zazie Todd, PhD Young children are very interested in animals. One study even found children aged 11 – 40 months would prefer to look at an animal behind a glass screen ( even if the animal is fast asleep ) rather than play with a toy (LoBue et al 2013). Now researchers are asking whether this interest in animals means that children with a cat or dog know more about biology than those without. The study, by Megan Geerdts (University of North Carolina at Greensboro) et al, was in two parts. First of all, the scientists needed to know how preschool children actually interact with cats and dogs. Although this is observed by parents every day, it seems it hasn’t been recorded in enough detail for science. So the researchers observed 24 preschool children in a free-play session with their pet, and asked their parents to complete a questionnaire about their

Why Do People Take Part in Dog Sports?

Is it for themselves, for the dog - or a bit of both? Photo: Reddogs/Shutterstock By Zazie Todd, PhD People can participate in dog sports (like agility) at any level, from local classes to national and international events. A study by Joey Farrell ( Lakehead University ) et al investigates what motivates people to take part in dog sports, and why some compete much more often than others.  They recruited people at events where at least two different sports were taking place, from a list of agility, rally, field, obedience and conformation (showing pedigree dogs). Although there is a chance to win titles, it turns out this isn’t the main reason why people take part. Feeling immersed in the activity and the chance to meet like-minded people are both important to competitors. The scientists say that “people who are frequently active in dog sports tend to participate with a high level of self-determined motivation, which is related to personal satisfaction. Open-ended s

Unanticipated Animals: What Happens When Pets Appear in Research Interviews?

A new study finds pets are often written out of research reports. Photo: Dirk Ott/Shutterstock By Zazie Todd, PhD We all know the saying “ never work with children or animals ”. Normally it applies to actors. But what happens when a researcher goes to interview someone and a pet is there too? A new paper by Sara Ryan and Sue Ziebland ( University of Oxford ) says that health scientists are not paying enough attention to the importance of pets in people’s lives. Their analysis shows that pets are often ignored or are seen as an interruption in interviews. In one case, someone talks about how their diagnosis with a serious health condition was difficult, especially because they did not feel the doctor listened to them as a patient. The researcher’s response: “Can I shut that cat up?” (Fortunately the video of the interview showed this was a friendly interaction). Although this is the most striking example given in the paper, Ryan and Ziebland say that in general the

A Conversation with Mia Cobb

On Wednesday I covered Mia Cobb’s new paper on working dogs and canine performance science . Mia's research has the potential to have a big impact on the lives of working dogs. She kindly agreed to talk to me about working dogs, animal welfare, and her new puppy Rudy. By Zazie Todd, PhD How can we improve the training of working dogs? One of the key things that would help to improve the success rates of trainee working dogs would be wider recognition of the sum of all the parts that make a successful working dog. It’s not just the training methods used, it’s not just the genetics, it’s also the socialization and puppy raising process, the diet and health management, it’s the way dogs are housed, the human and canine company they keep, the opportunities they have for rest and play as well as learn, that is relevant to a successful working dog.  It can be easy for both scientists and practitioners to focus on just one element of the process – like breeding for soun