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Showing posts from March, 2016

Let's Celebrate! Companion Animal Psychology Turns 4

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It’s time to party!


It is four years since I created Companion Animal Psychology. 
I started the blog in order to explore people’s relationships with their pets. One aim is to provide evidence-based information on how to care for and train our companion animals. Another is to bring the best scientific research on people and their pets to a wider audience. While there are many more excellent studies than I’m able to cover, I love to write about research that has the potential to make a difference to animal welfare and to the lives of people who interact with pets. 
The most popular post written in the last twelve months is re-arranging metaphors for dogs, while my most-read post of all time remains whether dogs get that Eureka! feeling?, with 17.6k shares (and still counting). Other popular articles from the last year include how audiobooks can help shelter dogs, six ways to entertain your dog indoors, and make your dog happy: train force free. Cats are not forgotten with proof the intern…

Canine Stress in the Vet's Waiting Room

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Almost 30% of dogs are highly stressed in the waiting room, but owners don’t necessarily know if their dog is stressed or not.



Some dogs show signs of stress in the waiting room at the vet, according to a study by Chiara Mariti (University of Pisa) et al, but there are some surprises in the results. 45 healthy dogs and their owners each came for a scheduled appointment at the vet, where they spent 3 minutes in the waiting room. The dogs were videoed while owners completed a questionnaire. Later, a veterinary behaviourist also rated the dogs based on the video.
According to owners, 44% of the dogs experienced ‘low’ stress in the waiting room, 27% were at a ‘medium’ level, and 29% were rated as highly stressed. The behaviourist said 42% had ‘low’ stress, 29% ‘medium’ and 29% ‘high’. It looks like almost perfect agreement – except they didn’t agree on which dogs were stressed.
And here’s where it gets interesting, because the researchers coded the videos for specific stress behaviours. It t…

The Effects of Seeing Animal Abuse on Children's Mental Health

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For children who live in a situation of domestic violence, also witnessing animal cruelty may negatively impact resilience.



New research by Shelby McDonald (Virginia Commonwealth University) et al (2016) looks at the effects of seeing animal abuse on children’s psychological health in a context where they already witness intimate partner violence. Last week I reported on a study by McDonald et al (2015) that found a quarter of children whosemothers experience domestic violence also see their pet threatened or abused, and that most often the child says the motivation is to control the mother.

Since pets are often sources of social support for children, this may be especially traumatic; the effects of this are the focus of the new study.
Children who are exposed to domestic violence are at risk of psychological problems, and yet some children are surprisingly resilient. One aim of McDonald’s (2016) study was to explore patterns in how children function when there is a family context of do…

Children's Experiences of Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse

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24% of children whose mothers experience domestic violence also see threats to or abuse of companion animals, research shows.



Every year in the US, 1 in 15 children is exposed to intimate partner violence, according to a national survey. Research by Shelby McDonald (Virginia Commonwealth University) et al finds many also witness abuse of pets in the home, potentially adding to the impacts on their behaviour and mental health.
The researchers interviewed children age 7 – 12 whose mothers had used domestic violence services in the past year. Of 242 children, a quarter had seen someone threaten to or actually injure/kill a pet. They analyzed the data from this group to find out more about the animal abuse these children saw. 
The results show the patterns of animal abuse that children describe as happening in the home, the different family members involved, and the reasons children give as to why it occurs. For children who witness this, it may be especially traumatic, since pets can be a f…

Reading to Dogs May Improve Literacy

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A new review of existing research finds reading to dogs may help children’s literacy – but the quality of evidence is weak.


That’s the conclusion of a new paper by Sophie Hall et al (University of Lincoln). They searched the literature for studies that investigate the effects of programs in which children read to dogs, and conducted a systematic review of 48 papers.
They write, “The evidence suggests that reading to a dog may have a beneficial effect on a number of behavioural processes which contribute to a positive effect on the environment in which reading is practiced, leading to improved reading performance.”
It sounds very promising: if children read out loud to dogs, they have a captive and non-judgemental audience. Such programs are becoming increasingly popular, so it’s important to know if they really work – not least because, as very inexpensive programs, it could be a cost-effective way to improve literacy. 



Reading sessions, with volunteer dogs and handlers, take place in sch…

Interview with Zazie Todd, PhD, on Science Borealis

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"...there's no need to use aversive methods in dog training."

I was recently interviewed by Lindsay Jolivet for Science Borealis. You can read the full text of the interview here.

Thank you to Science Borealis for featuring Companion Animal Psychology.