Showing posts from May, 2015

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?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Recently I saw a man walking a German Shepherd. Even from a distance it was clear the dog was nervous: his posture was low to the ground and the way he was walking made me wonder what kind of equipment he was on. As I waited at the traffic lights, I got a chance to see: a prong collar, tight, positioned high on his neck.
There are easy alternatives, the simplest being a no-pull harness. I began to wonder: did the man not know there were other approaches? Did he not want to invest time in training loose-leash walking? Or did he think it looks good to have a big dog on a prong collar?
While I don’t know his line of reasoning, we do know something about sources of training information. A recent survey of canine behavioural problems by Pirrone et al (2015) in Italy included a question about where people got information on dog training. 55% of respondents gave the answer, ‘m…

Pets: Building Community One Friend at a Time

Even indoor pets help us get to know other people, according to new research in four cities in the US and Australia.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

It’s easy to see how people who regularly walk their dog can get to know others. They might strike up friendly conversations about dogs, or learn to avoid certain people because of the way their off-leash dog charges up with unwanted “friendly” advances. It’s less obvious for people who don’t walk their dogs, or who have pets that are always indoors. But a new study by researchers at the University of Western Australia and Harvard University finds that pets are an important way of getting to know and make friends with other people.
Lead author Lisa Wood told me in an email, 
“There is growing evidence that social isolation, loneliness and lack of social support are common issues in today's cities and suburbs, and these can take a negative toll on our health and wellbeing. Companion animals can however be an antidote to this, as they often create oppor…

6 Reasons to Love Canine Science

Recent years have seen a blossoming of the field of canine science. Here are some reasons to love it.

By Zazie Todd, PhDBecause dogs are amazing, and science proves it!

We love our dogs, and fMRI studies show how important people are to dogs (their caudate lights up on smelling a familiar human, Berns et al 2014). Dogs can learn to follow pointing gestures,will try to comfort a crying stranger and respond to the sound of a baby crying. Chaser the border collie knows 1000 words. And we mustn’t forget how amazing the dog’s nose is (part of a series of four by Julie Hecht). Canine science even studies how dog's close relations, hand-reared wolves interact with humans (Gácsi et al 2013) and even get attached to them (Hall et al 2015).

It helps us train our dogs better
Dog training relies on well-established techniques of operantand classical conditioning, but more recent research specific to dogs and their owners can also help improve our training technique. Many studies show an associati…

Loss of a Dog: The Importance of Social Support

New research finds that losing a pet dog is a stressful life event.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Sooner or later, all pet owners have to face the realization that the lives of our animals are far too short. Grieving for a lost pet is further complicated by some people who fail to understand what a pet means. Comments like, “It was just a dog” can be very hurtful. A new study by Lilian Tzivian (Ben Gurion University of the Negev) et al investigates the psychological effects of pet loss.
The study compared 103 dog owners who had been bereaved in the previous 2 – 4 weeks with 110 owners who currently have a dog, and who had not suffered a pet loss in the previous two years. The cut-off of two years was chosen to ensure that people in this group were not grieving an earlier pet. 

Amongst the bereaved owners, 89% had had their dog euthanized due to illness, and 9% due to an accident.
Although the results will not surprise those for whom pets are family, they may surprise others who do not have an attac…