29 January 2017

The Secret History of Kindness: Companion Animal Psychology Book Club

The book for December was The Secret History of Kindness: Learning from how dogs learn by Melissa Holbrook Pierson.

The book cover of The Secret History of Kindness

The Secret History of Kindness: Learning from How Dogs Learn is a history of clicker training, from B.F. Skinner’s studies of operant conditioning and the development of the field of behaviourism through to present day dog training.

It covers Skinner’s rise and fall within Psychology, including the devastating effect of Chomsky’s review of Skinner's book Verbal Behaviour. It also details the work of Marian and Keller Breland via Animal Behavior Enterprises, Bob Bailey, Karen Pryor, Jean Donaldson, and the author’s own experiences of attending Clicker Expo.

Interwoven through the history are stories about Pierson’s own dogs, and what it was like to learn to live with them and train them. She is a fine writer and I enjoyed these stories very much.

For someone who espouses positive reinforcement, Pierson somehow fails to teach her dog to come when called. But the book is not intended to be a guide to dog training – it is very much a history of the development of modern dog training methods using operant conditioning. The kindness of the title refers to kind training methods that use positive reinforcement.

While the dog goes romping through the undergrowth, we are treated to philosophical musings about life with a canine. These discussions are an interesting part of the book, covering topics such as the treatment of zoo animals and why some people are so quick to use physical punishment when other options are available.

The meticulously-researched footnotes are packed with interesting asides, but it’s possible to leave them to dip back into later.

“Dog training is both exquisitely simple and achingly hard,” she writes (p219).

Anyone who has trained a dog will find something of interest in this book.

Learn more about the Companion Animal Psychology Book Club.

If you’ve read the book too, what did you think of it?

25 January 2017

The Importance of Science in Horse Training

Horse ‘licking and chewing’: is it a sign of learning, submission or stress?

Guest post by Georgina (Gina) Bishopp (Hartpury College, UK).

A horse is being trained in the pen

 A little while ago I was having a lesson on my horse when my instructor beamed up at me and exclaimed, “There you go, she is licking and chewing – she’s really listening to you now, keep going!” and with excitement I continued on eagerly with the exercise we were practising. It wasn’t until the exhilaration of the moment had waned did I think to myself, is licking and chewing really a sign of learning?

In the equine industry, or for a more realistic term, the equine world (to encompass both professionals, private owners and recreational riders) there is no set way of interpreting a horse’s behaviour. Truly there are no black and whites in horse ownership or training or even riding. Unfortunately, negative reinforcement and positive punishment are the traditional methods utilised for training horses, alongside habituation, desensitisation and, sadly, flooding, however modern trainers are starting to use a combination of positive reinforcement alongside negative.

And there are those that are trying to change the face of horse training from this traditional reliance on aversive stimuli to create a system similar to modern dog training with the use of reward-based methods.

There are equestrians who utilise all traditional equipment that has been designed to mould the horse to positions we deem beautiful, such as Pessoa lunging equipment, or to increase the sharpness of their animals, such as with spurs, whips and a wide variety of bits. There are also equestrians that aim to lower tension in their horses through equipment designed to decrease pressure, such as bitless bridles (such as the Dr Cook cross under), new design bridles (such as the Micklem bridle) and treeless (or no contact) saddles.

There are different kinds of horsemanship – traditional, sympathetic or natural, all with their own set of beliefs that are either based in an understanding of learning theory quadrants (primarily those with aversive stimuli) or a perceived understanding of natural horse behaviour when in herd dynamics. Similar to the dominance debate in the dog world, there are those that try to become the horse’s leader through adopting ‘leader’ postures and behaviours, and those that try to become the horse’s friend – as well as the whole plethora of individuals in between that take bits and pieces from all fields and understandings.

Science unfortunately does not really come into horse ownership, riding and training. Not true science anyway. ‘Licking and chewing’ is a common misnomer in the equine industry. If you have ever ridden or trained a horse before, regardless of discipline, it is likely that you have been told that when the horse is ‘licking and chewing’ they are learning and that these behaviours are a good sign! 

A beautiful white horse in a field, looking at the camera

These behaviours are important to both traditional and natural horsemanship trainers. With natural horsemanship the ‘licking and chewing’ are used to signal when a horse is accepting you as their leader, (Roberts, 1996; Parelli, 1993) – again a good sign. As Goodwin expressed in 1999 however there has been no scientific evidence to support the idea that a horse licking and chewing is a sign of submission.

In reality these behaviours are likely to be a signal that the horse is feeling stressed or uncomfortable, where they act as a displacement or comforting behaviour (Goodwin, 1999) or more simply may be a physiological response to increased adrenaline in reaction to stress, which has been found to increase saliva production, (McGreevy, 2004). With traditional riding it may be exercise induced adrenaline causing this behaviour, however it may also be that the horses are experiencing aversive stress whilst being trained.

With natural horsemanship this behaviour is primarily seen during the round-pen technique. This training requires the human to chase the horse around the pen until these ‘submissive’ behaviours are seen, at which point the trainer will stop and adopt a ‘passive’ stance. The horse then walks over to the trainer and it is declared that the horse has ‘joined up’ with the human.

Warren-Smith and McGreevy, (2008) preliminarily explored this training method through evaluating the behaviours seen when placing a mare and a colt in the round pen. The process they used was simple. They walked a broodmare into a round pen, facing away from the gate, and then brought in an unrelated colt, before leaving them alone and loose in the pen. Their behaviour was recorded for 8 minutes and they found no evidence that the mare would chase the colt around so as to discipline the younger individual until submission is observed. In fact both mare and colt stood resting at opposite sides of the pen.

The explanation given for licking and chewing in response to being chased by a human was that this behaviour is likely to be a physiological stress response and the ‘submission’ seen afterwards is due to the negative reinforcement principle. The trainer chases the horse until they display this behaviour (an aversive stimuli) and when they do the trainer stop and becomes passive (removes the aversive), therefore negatively reinforcing this behavioural response when chased around.

There is a lot of room for science in horse management, riding and ownership, especially in the private sector. Thankfully research is growing in this field and with the advent of equitation science, see the International society for Equitation Science (ISES), as well as publications such as Horses in Our Hands (2016) (accessible through the World Horse Welfare organisation website) the dissemination of this research to the public is also growing. Although we are still somewhat living in the equine dark ages, we are also on the cusp of great discovery and welfare improvements for these beautiful and wonderfully intelligent animals.

So what do you think, have you ever been told your horse is learning when they start to ‘lick and chew’?

About the author:

Georgina Bishopp with a puppy
My name is Georgina (Gina) Bishopp and I am a 23-year-old MRes Animal Behaviour and Welfare student at the University of West England, Hartpury College campus. Since graduating from my first degree (BSc Animal Science with Care and Management) I have worked for the Blue Cross and am now at the RSPCA, primarily working with dogs and cats. I own a horse and have ridden since a child, experiencing every different kind of horse training and management as I have tried to understand which method is best for the horse. Now I use a blend of tradition and new age techniques, and only those that are supported by current scientific understanding of horses themselves or other mammals (including the dog). My academic focus has primarily been with companion animals, primarily dogs, and equines, however my interests are very broad and extend to wildlife and zoo animals welfare as well.

Photos: Garnet Photo (top) and Grigorita Ko (both Shutterstock.com).

Goodwin, D. (2010). The importance of ethology in understanding the behaviour of the horse Equine Veterinary Journal, 31 (S28), 15-19 DOI: 10.1111/j.2042-3306.1999.tb05150.x
McGreevy, P. D. (2004). Equine behavior: A guide for veterinarians and equine scientists. London: W. B. Saunders.

Parelli, P. (1993). Natural horsemanship. Colorado Springs: Western Horseman Books.

Roberts, M. (1996). The man who listens to horses. London: Arrow Books.

Warren-Smith AK, & McGreevy PD (2008). Preliminary investigations into the ethological relevance of round-pen (round-yard) training of horses. Journal of applied animal welfare science : JAAWS, 11 (3), 285-98 PMID: 18569224
Propose a guest post to Companion Animal Psychology.

22 January 2017

Companion Animal Psychology News January 2017

The latest news on cats and dogs from Companion Animal Psychology, January 2017.

A cat and dog lounge by the window reading the newspaper

Some of my favourite posts from around the web this month:

“When your husband is having chemotherapy and you're under pressure at work you really don't need anything to go wrong. Like the cat getting stuck - really stuck - on the roof." Cat on a cold tiled roof by Sue Elliot-Nicholls.

"Dog training is a divided profession." Talk softly and carry a carrot not a stick by Jean Donaldson (The Academy for Dog Trainers), a very topical post given proposals to regulate dog training in New York.

The hidden role of pets in the management of mental health conditions by Dr. Helen Brooks. A fascinating account of this research on the various ways pets can help.

"Dogs are like turkeys in one important way: They love to gobble." In Train your dog to resist temptation in four easy stepsKristi Benson explains how to teach “leave it.”

“...upon closer inspection, dogs often reveal their own dog-like way of processing and attending to the world.” DogSpies by Julie Hecht on the Delboeuf illusion which fools us, but not dogs.

"In its most mundane form, dog walking is about humans enhancing a dog’s (and also their own) quality of life." What 'walkies' says about your relationship with your dog by Louise Platt and  Thomas Fletcher.

And this wonderful post (with video) from Allison Wells about how to stuff a Kong for your dog.

Pets in the News…

The RSPCA Australia and the Australian Veterinary Association launch the Love Is Blind campaign to change standards for certain breeds of dogs that have health problems. The pugly truth: why you should choose healthy over cute every time explains the background behind the campaign.

The premier of Quebec has said that provincial Dangerous Dog Legislation will be tabled in the Spring.  He has said that it will not be breed specific, and that “dog owners need to be held accountable for what their dogs do.”

Meanwhile in Montreal, the Montreal SPCA is to stop taking in dogs in protest of the new pit bull bylaw there.

In New Zealand, breed will not prevent dogs from being re-homed. This is a result of a change in the proposals for a national action plan for dogs. “Breed alone is no indication of aggression, so we believe all dogs should be treated as individuals and not discriminated against based on what they look like,” says Andrea Midgen, acting CEO of the SPCA New Zealand.

A judge has ruled pet dogs cannot be treated as children in a Canadian custody dispute. “But after all is said and done, a dog is a dog. At law it is property, a domesticated animal that is owned. At law it enjoys no familial rights.” said the judge.

International Cat Care has a new feeding plan for your cat.

A dog abuse video spurs legislation to license dog trainers in New York. The legislation is proposed by Sen. Todd Kaminsky, following allegations that a Long Island dog trainer abused a dog.

The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies report on 2015 has some good news as adoptions are up.

There’s a new pet-friendly overnight shelter for homeless youth in Quebec City. “Sometimes their love is so powerful it will be enough to get them off drugs and back in school.”

And vets in Quebec will no longer crop ears or dock tails.

Upcoming Events

The gift of a grey muzzle: active care for senior dogs. PPG workshop for anyone with an aging dog, with Kathy Sdao and Lori Stevens 18-19 Feb 2017, Tampa, Florida.

There will be a series of one-day Fear Free symposia in 2017 on how to reduce fear, anxiety and stress for animals and clients at the vet (includes discounted registration for Fear Free certification). Next up is February 19th in Los Angeles, with events planned across the US.

Patricia McConnell will be on tour across the USA to promote her new book, The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and a Dog. First up, 20th Feb in Milwaukee, WI.

Dogs! At the Royal Geographical Society in London, UK on 23rd March 2017. 5 speakers, 15 minutes each.

The British Veterinary Behaviour Association's 2017 study day on 5th April is on the topic of The Pet's Perspective - Seeing Things Through Their Eyes. Speakers include Dr. Tammie King, Dr. Rachel Casey, Dr. John Bradshaw (TBC) and Dr. Helen Zulch.

The IAABC conference 2017 will take place April 8th and 9th in Los Angeles. Speakers include Dr. Susan Friedman and  Dr. Christopher Pachel, and there is a track on Building Your Behaviour Consulting Business.


A photographer captures dogs like never before (that would be their bellies).

Meet the pub cats of London. Lots of moggies posing inside the pubs where they work.

This book celebrates cats hanging out in New York shops.

Emoji kittens from Tania Hennessy blends cute studio photos of kittens with digital art.

And a video: Hong Kong’s feline friends offer insight into city’s past from AFP on the shop cats of Hong Kong.

Here at Companion Animal Psychology

The Companion Animal Psychology Book Club takes a break in January, but will return in February to discuss Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal.

I am delighted that Companion Animal Psychology is nominated three times in the 2016 Dog Writer’s Association Awards. As well as the nomination in the blog category, I have two nominations for particular blog posts, for Why do people choose certain dogs? and Shelter dogs live up to expectations (mostly). Congratulations to all the nominees!

Here on the blog, you can read about a new model of animal welfare that includes positive experiences, and how scientists are investigating how to test dogs to see if they are safe with cats without them having to actually meet one, which could be stressful for the feline.

Finally, thank you to everyone who has left a comment with their suggestions for the pet people to follow in 2017. There are lots of great additions to the list, and there's still time to add your suggestions!

If you want to stay up-to-date with the latest science about dogs, cats and the human-animal bond, subscribe to Companion Animal Psychology. Subscribers can send me topic requests for future posts simply by hitting the reply button – it comes straight to my inbox.

18 January 2017

Finding Out if Dogs Like Cats - Or Not

A new study investigates the best way to find out if a dog will get on with cats.

Finding out if dogs like cats or not, like this Australian Shepherd greeting a cat

When dogs are waiting for adoption at a shelter, a common question is “what is the dog like with cats?” But at the moment there’s no validated way to test dogs to see if they will be friendly to cats.

Some dogs become good friends with cats, but other dogs want to chase and kill them, so it would really help if shelters knew if a dog is cat-friendly.

Sometimes the person who surrenders a dog will provide information, but typically this isn’t available. So staff may walk the dog past one of the shelter cats to see how it responds. This is potentially very stressful for the cat, and we don’t know if the dog’s response is typical of how it would behave away from the shelter environment.

A new study by Dr. Christy Hoffman (Canisius College) et al sets out to investigate what a cat-friendliness assessment might look like. They tested pet dogs with a realistic-looking cat doll, recordings of cat sounds, and the smell of cat urine.

Lead author Dr. Christy Hoffman told me in an email,
“We had several cool findings. For one, dogs sniffed our control object (a stuffed pillowcase) more when it smelled like cat urine than when it did not; however, when our cat-like doll smelled like cat urine, the dogs did not invest any additional time into sniffing the cat doll than when it did not smell like cat urine. Our interpretation of what was going on in the dogs’ heads: “If it looks like a cat and smells like a cat, so what? If it doesn’t look like a cat but smells like one, that’s interesting!” To me, the finding suggests dogs perceived the cat-like doll as actually being cat-like. We thought that was interesting.

The other main finding was that dogs that had a history of killing/injuring cats or other small animals spent significantly more time orienting to the cat sounds than dogs that did not have such a history. While we did not develop a shelter-based assessment tool that could predict which dogs are cat-appropriate as part of our study, we think the findings could contribute to the development of such a tool.”
69 pet dogs of a variety of breeds and mixed-breeds took part in the study, which took place in a lab at Canisius College. 54 of the dogs happened to live with a cat.

The study separated visual, auditory and olfactory information. The visual cat stimulus was an animatronic Persian cat doll manufactured by Hasbro. A control visual stimulus was made by sticking eyes on a pillow case and putting a motorized ball inside (so it still had eyes and moved, but was not cat-like).

The auditory stimulus was a recording of cats miaowing, with a couple of growls too. The control was the sound of coins dropping.

Half of the dogs took part in the olfactory condition in which the items smelled of cat urine, and the other half had no odour added.

Finding out if dogs like cats or not - like this Golden Retriever saying hi to a cat through a window
Photos: TN Photographer; top, shubbel (both Shutterstock.com)

The dogs were video-taped to see how they responded to the inanimate cat toy vs control, the animated cat toy vs the animated control, and the cat sounds vs the coin sounds. The videos were analysed to see how much time each dog spent looking towards, focussing on and sniffing each stimulus.

The dogs spent the same amount of time orienting to the cat stimulus, whether it was animated or inanimate. For the control visual stimulus, they spent longer orienting to it when it was animated (i.e. the balls were moving inside the pillow case).

Dogs spent longer orienting to the cat sound compared to the control sound or the visual cat stimulus. They also spent more time orienting to the visual cat stimulus than the visual control, and to the control sound than the visual control.

In other words, they were prioritizing the auditory information over visual, and they were most interested in the cat sounds.

Dogs sniffed the cat doll more than the pillow case, whether or not they were in the olfactory condition in which both items smelled of cat pee. So this suggests they did find the cat doll to be cat-like, in much the same way dogs seem to find stuffed dogs dog-like.

Whether or not the dog lived with a cat did not significantly affect the results.

However, 4 of the dogs had previously killed or injured a cat, and 14 had previously killed or injured a small furry animal. So the researchers looked to see if there were any differences in behaviour between these dogs and those with no such history.

They found the dogs with a history of killing/injuring a cat or other small furry creature spent longer orienting to the cat sounds than the other dogs. There was no effect for visual or olfactory information. This suggests that a test based on cat sounds might be a good way to separate out the dogs that would not be safe with cats.

Future research on olfaction could use scent collected from cats’ scent glands (e.g. when the cat rubs on something) instead of urine, which might be more realistic.

Developing assessments for shelter dogs is difficult. This study takes the first steps in finding out how to evaluate dogs to see if they get on with cats, without stressing any cats in the process. The results suggest focussing on auditory information could be a good way to find out.

This is important research because a validated test to see if dogs are feline-friendly would be very useful for animal shelters.

How does your dog get on with cats?

Stay up to date and subscribe to Companion Animal Psychology.

Hoffman, C., Workman, M., Roberts, N., & Handley, S. (2017). Dogs’ responses to visual, auditory, and olfactory cat-related cues Applied Animal Behaviour Science DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2016.12.016

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11 January 2017

The Five Domains Model Aims to Help Animals Thrive

An updated approach to animal welfare includes opportunities for positive experiences for our companion (and other) animals.

Good animal welfare includes positive experiences, like for this border collie, according to the five domains model

“…the overall objective is to provide opportunities for animals to ‘thrive’, not simply ‘survive’” (Mellor, 2016)

The Five Freedoms

Animal welfare is traditionally defined by the Five Freedoms. These are

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour
  • Freedom from fear and distress

You can see the original list on the – now archived – page of the UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Council and the Council’s 2009 report on farm animal welfare in Great Britain.

You will also find them listed on many SPCA and humane society websites, including by the BC SPCA and the ASPCA, because the Five Freedoms frame how they look after the animals in their care.

The Five Freedoms have defined animal welfare internationally, not just for farmed animals but also for our companion animals. Each of the Freedoms has a corresponding Provision that enables the Freedom to be met. For example, ‘freedom from hunger and thirst’ has the provision “by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.”

Updating the Five Freedoms

You might have already noticed that most of the Freedoms are ‘freedom from’ something unpleasant. Research by Professor David Mellor (Massey University) suggests improvements that include positive welfare as well.

There are two main disadvantages to the Five Freedoms approach, according to Mellor (2016).

The first is that some people have taken them to mean something that is an absolute, rather than an ideal. This is despite the fact the FAWC says “These freedoms define ideal states rather than standards for acceptable welfare.”

Mellor says that some people even see them as ‘rights’ for the animals. However, he says, some of these are biological drives – if animals did not feel thirst, they would never drink, for example. So we can’t expect that an animal would never feel thirst; it’s more that they should never get too thirsty, because water should be available to them when they do feel thirst.

The second disadvantage is that the approach focusses on problems. Mellor says it’s because that is what was important at the time, and that the Five Freedoms have been very successful.

However, now we are more aware of the idea of providing positive experiences, and so they should be incorporated into our model of good animal welfare.

Two black poodles playing - opportunities to thrive, not just survive, are important for good animal welfare

The Five Provisions and Welfare Aims

The updated set of Five Provisions/Welfare Aims incorporates positive experiences as well as minimizing negative ones. It is designed to be easily understood and memorable, just like the original Five Freedoms.

A table to explain the model of good animal welfare
Reproduced from Mellor (2016) under Creative Commons licence

Professor David Mellor told me in an email,

“An animal’s welfare refers to what it experiences. Experiences can be negative or positive. An early idea was that animals should be kept free of conditions inside and outside their bodies that lead to negative experiences. We now know that some internal conditions and related negative experiences are needed to keep animals alive. For example, breathlessness helps to regulate breathing, thirst ensures that animals drink enough water, hunger gets them to eat enough food, and pain drives them to avoid or withdraw from things that cause injuries. So we cannot eliminate these experiences, but we can avoid extremes of them. Thus, good care can ensure that such negative experiences stay at low levels, but are still available to get the animals to behave in particular ways that help to keep them alive. Regarding hunger, you should be careful not to overfeed your pet.

"Other negative experiences are due to an animal’s external circumstances. These may arise when animals are kept alone in a small, featureless area with little to do, or when they feel threatened in various ways. Loneliness, depression, boredom, fear and anxiety are examples of these experiences. Fortunately, if the animals are given congenial company, plenty of space, a variety of things to do and feel safe and secure, these negative experiences can be replaced by positive feelings of comfort, pleasure, interest, confidence and a sense of control.

"The aims of animal care should therefore be both to keep the negative experiences generated within the body at low levels, and to replace various other negative experiences by providing comfortable, congenial, interesting and safe surroundings.

"The Five Provisions/Welfare Aims approach helps us to do this. The Provisions guide the way we care for animals by ensuring they have good nutrition, good environment, good health, appropriate behaviour and positive mental experiences. The Welfare Aims linked to the provisions direct our attention to the experiences we want to reduce to low levels and to the other experiences we want to encourage.”

The Five Provisions/Welfare Aims are consistent with the Five Domains Model of animal welfare that is an update to the Five Freedoms. The Five Domains are nutrition, environment, health, behavior, and mental state, and you will notice that the names of the Five Provisions map onto these domains.

Illustrating the Five Domains Model

A paper by Kat Littlewood and David Mellor provides an example of how the new approach works. They take a fictional scenario of a working farm dog called Jess who gets injured. They walk the reader through the dog’s welfare at six different stages in her life. The scenario was chosen so that it does not present an ideal, and both positive and negative aspects of welfare are assessed. It is the first use of the new Five Domains model.

The paper follows Jess from her initial working role herding sheep on a farm, through a traumatic injury caused by getting stuck on a barbed wire fence, subsequent emergency veterinary care, having to have a front leg amputated, six weeks recovery time in a new home, and then her subsequent life as a tripod pet dog.

Positive welfare is important for dogs, like this happy wet tripod dog at the beach

At each stage, Littlewood and Mellor illustrate how to assess Jess’s welfare in terms of both the compromises and enhancements that apply.  Compromises in each of the five domains are assessed using a letter scale from A (meaning no compromises) to E (very severe compromises). Compromises include states such as being hungry and thirsty, as well as affective responses such as fear, anxiety and boredom.

Enhancements in each domain are graded on a four-point scale from none to high level enhancement, and take account of the extent to which the animal has choices (“agency”).

They say enhancement “includes the genetically pre-programmed, or learned, affectively positive impulses to engage in rewarding behaviours, and it also includes positive affects related to anticipation, goal achievement and memory of success.”

Assessment in any domain involves looking at both compromises and enhancements.

Throughout the fictional scenario, there are times when some aspects of welfare are better than others. The time of the traumatic injury is the worst and several domains are graded as D (marked or severe compromise) with no enhancement.

In the final stage, after the leg amputation and recovery period, Jess is in her new home. She is allowed to sleep inside the house, has a Fox Terrier for companionship, and can even herd sheep from to time. Her welfare in her new home is not compromised, and is rated as having high level enhancement.

The paper provides a very detailed and helpful assessment of overall welfare, which shows how to apply the model to each stage of Jess’s life. This illustration will enable others to make good use of the Five Domains model in different situations.

Implications of the Five Domains Model

The Five Domains model has broad implications, including for animal cruelty investigations.

Kat Littlewood and David Mellor told me in an email,

“The Five Domains Model for welfare assessment recognises the dynamic integration of the basic functional processes within the body, the experiences animals may have and interactions between function and experience. Thus, biological function can affect animals’ subjective experiences, and their subjective experiences can affect their biological function. For example: shortage of oxygen can lead to breathlessness, dehydration to thirst and injury to pain; and emotionally threatening circumstances, giving rise to anxiety and/or fear, and injury-induced pain can lead to elevated heart rate, blood pressure and blood levels of stress hormones.

"In terms of prosecutions for ill treatment of animals it has been, and is still, common for biological function to be the basis of assessments of detrimental welfare impacts. This created difficulties for the Prosecution because Defence lawyers can and do challenge expert witness testimony based on interpreting such functional changes in terms of what the animals may have experienced: How can you be sure that this increase in heart rate or stress hormone level or other such measurement shows that the animal was actually experiencing severe suffering? And often, by the time these offences are brought before the court the animal has received the care and attention it needed so that its welfare state has improved significantly. In such cases, a retrospective welfare assessment is required.

"However, it is now possible to align the presumed welfare insult, the animal’s behaviour and our well-developed understanding of the brain processing involved in expressing these behaviours in ways that provide convincing support for animals having the particular negative experiences caused by the particular form(s) of ill treatment as described. The Five Domains Model and our understanding of the science that underlies it facilitate this process and as this paper shows, these assessments can be carried out retrospectively. Dr Rebecca Ledger in Canada has found this approach to be most successful.”

Positive welfare is important for our pets, like this sleepy cat on the bed

Dr. Rebecca Ledger spoke to Pete McMartin of the Vancouver Sun about her use of modern behavioural science in successful animal cruelty prosecutions. She told him, “I believe we are the first people in Canada to apply behavioural evidence in these kinds of cases and to infer emotional suffering based on behavioural evidence.

“I think the reason it’s taken up until now for these kinds of charges to be laid and accepted was that people were always concerned that we might be anthropomorphizing, because we can’t ask animals directly how they feel. But just like us, they can communicate in other ways. They can react to a negative situation with a physiological stress response, for example. And that physiological response is measurable.”

The New Five Domains Approach to Animal Welfare

Although the Five Freedoms have been around for some time, a recent UK report found that 65% of pet owners are not aware of their legal requirements regarding animal welfare, as explained in this article by Pete Wedderburn. So there is obviously work to do to inform pet owners about the Five Provisions/Welfare Aims and what it means for their responsibilities to their pets.

However, the idea that animals should have positive experiences is one that I think many pet owners will be happy to hear about and keen to adopt.

The Five Freedoms have made a tremendous contribution to animal welfare. Prof. Mellor’s approach updates them to take account of scientific advances in how we understand animals, and to incorporate positive experiences. The Five Domains model is a significant development in animal welfare that many people will be interested to learn about. The Five Provisions/Welfare Aims incorporate this model and are designed to help ordinary people understand this approach.

Both of these papers therefore make an important contribution to the literature in and of themselves, as well as showing how to communicate these new updates in a way that people can understand.

If you want more information on the research discussed in this post, you’ll be glad to know the articles are open access and you can read them via the links below. You can also learn more about the Five Domains model in another 2016 paper by David Mellor (also open access). And you can follow Kat Littlewood on twitter and Facebook.

What do you do to ensure your pet has positive experiences?

You might also like: Why don't more people use positive reinforcement to train dogs? and 'dominance' training deprives dogs of positive experiences.

Stay up to date and subscribe to Companion Animal Psychology.

Littlewood, K., & Mellor, D. (2016). Changes in the Welfare of an Injured Working Farm Dog Assessed Using the Five Domains Model Animals, 6 (9) DOI: 10.3390/ani6090058
Mellor DJ (2016). Moving beyond the "Five Freedoms" by Updating the "Five Provisions" and Introducing Aligned "Animal Welfare Aims". Animals : an open access journal from MDPI, 6 (10) PMID: 27669313
Photos: Dora Zett (top), Daz Stock (middle) and endlesssea2011 (Shutterstock.com).

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 January 2017

The Pet People to Follow in 2017

The canine and feline scientists, pet professionals, bloggers and organizations to follow on social media in 2017.

Beagle in a winter wonderland

Are you looking for some new accounts to follow in 2017? I’ve compiled a list of some of the best people and organizations to follow on twitter and Facebook if you’re interested in companion animals, science, and the human-animal bond.

Not only do they produce great content of their own, they also have a varied feed that includes news, research and interesting snippets from around the web.

I’ve given links to twitter and Facebook accounts so you can follow however you choose (some are more active on one than the other). The first link is always to twitter, Facebook second if they are on there too.

The list is in no particular order, so read through and see who you would like to follow.

Of course, there are many talented people in the world, so please add your own suggestions for people or organizations to follow in the comments below.

Dr. John Bradshaw – anthrozoologist and best-selling author of Dog Sense (In Defence of Dogs), Cat Sense, and co-author of The Trainable Cat

Dr. Sarah Ellis (Facebook) – co-author of the The Trainable Cat and feline behaviour specialist at International Cat Care

Dr. Hal Herzog – Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Western Carolina University and author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals (P.S.)

Dr. Alexandra Horowitz – canine cognition scientist and author of the best-selling books Inside of a Dog and Being a Dog.

Family Dog Project (Facebook) – the canine behaviour research group shares frequent updates on the latest scientific research from their team and others around the globe

Julie Hecht (Dog Spies) – don't miss the fantastic posts on canine science at Julie's Scientific American blog Dog Spies

Mia Cobb (Do You Believe in dog?) – now a canine science community with guest posts from young scientists on the blog and a feed full of news about canine science, including opportunities to participate

International Cat Care (Facebook) – a great resource for cat lovers, with information and advice for owners and professionals, as well as cute cat pictures too

Dr. Ilana Reisner (Facebook) – this veterinary behaviourist regularly deconstructs dog bite incidents to teach you how to prevent dog bites, and shares interesting and evidence-based items on animal behaviour and training

Mikel Delgado (Feline Minds) – Certified Cat Behaviour Consultant and PhD candidate shares information about cats and squirrels, with especially useful information on food puzzles for cats

Ingrid Johnson (Fundamentally Feline) –  education about cats and gorgeous photos from this Certified Cat Behaviour Consultant

BC SPCA (Facebook) – in amongst the photos of adoptable animals there is plenty of advice on how to care for pets, including #TipTuesday videos

Maddie’s Fund (Facebook) – lots of tips to help shelter dogs and cats, along with social media and website advice for the people running the shelters #ThankstoMaddie

The Academy for Dog Trainers (Facebook) – for links to top-notch dog training advice from Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers (“the Harvard of dog training”)

Kristi Benson (Facebook) – dog trainer, sled dog rescuer, and Academy tutor, with a funny and entertaining dog training blog

Maureen Backman (Mutt About Town) – a philosophical approach to reward-based dog training, plus lots of useful info on muzzles via the Muzzle Up project

Pet Professional Guild (Facebook) – advice on dog training and news from the organization for force free pet professionals

IAABC – information on behaviour problems in pets and links to journal articles and mentorships from the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants

Jessica Perry Hekman DVM (Facebook) – the author of The Dog Zombie blog is also a PhD candidate in genomics and is a great explainer of canine genetics

Dr. Brian Hare (Facebook) – information on animal minds and evolution, especially dogs and bonobos, from the associate professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke and founder of Dognition

Pam Johnson-Bennett (Facebook) – cat news and tips from the best-selling author of Think Like a Cat and host of Animal Planet’s Psycho Kitty

Susan Little DVM – this veterinarian specializes in feline medicine and has a twitter feed packed with intriguing facts about cats

Dr. Melanie Rock – information about non-human animals and health, including dog parks and dog bite prevention, from this Associate Professor at the University of Calgary

Martha Smith-Blackmore DVM – this compassionate expert in veterinary forensics is a Faculty Fellow at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and shares information on animal cruelty and animal welfare

Dr. Malcolm Campbell – biologist and Vice President (Research) at the University of Guelph, follow Malcolm for science tweets and #SixIncredibleThingsBeforeBreakfast that will blow your mind about animals and the universe

Katzenworld Blog (Facebook) – for chatty posts, product reviews and cute cat photos, with some articles on cat health and behaviour too

Fear Free (Facebook) – the new movement to help dogs and cats have a better experience at the veterinarian

The Centre for Shelter Dogs (Facebook) – part of the Cummings Veterinary School at Tufts University and brings you lots of resources to help shelter dogs

Anthrozoology Research Group (Facebook)  – shares links to interesting anthrozoological research by themselves and from around the globe

Dr. Sam Gaines (Sidney Snippets) – head of the Companion Animal dept at the RSPCA, with lots of tips to improve animal welfare and #EndBSL

Dr. Rachel Casey – veterinary behaviourist and animal welfare scientist at Dogs Trust, so look out for lots of great info on canine behaviour

Dr. Chris Blazina – psychologist with a special interest in understanding men and their canine best friends, shares interesting links about human animal interaction

Dr. Alan McElligott – tweets about his research and about animal behaviour, welfare and cognition generally; look out especially for the entertaining goat stories

ASA Animals Society (Facebook) – the American Sociological Association looks at the complex relationships between humans and animals

Dr. Marc Abraham (Facebook) – animal welfare campaigner and veterinarian of the year, with regular games of #GuessTheBreed

Dr. Pete Wedderburn (Facebook) – veterinary advice and news, and you’ll find a large library of articles on his website too.

Pupaid (Facebook) – a UK group campaigning against puppy farms and sharing followers’ photos of their adopted pets

Dr. Sophia Yin (Facebook) – the account of the company set up by the late Dr. Sophia Yin, CattleDog Publishing, shares her writings and educational links on animal behaviour.

Dr Marty Becker DVM (Facebook) veterinary information and stories about the human-animal bond from America’s veterinarian

Montreal SPCA (Facebook) – help them campaign against Breed Specific Legislation by following them and their hashtag #SaferKinderCommunities

How to follow people on twitter and facebook

On twitter: 

Following someone is as simple as clicking the follow button, but did you know you can make lists to make it easy to keep track of your favourite accounts? They can be private (so that only you know about them) or public (so the people on the list get a notification, and anyone can follow your list).

You will find a lists tab on your profile page, or you can use the gear icon drop-down menu.

On Facebook: 

When you like a page, you automatically also follow it, which means you should see page updates in your feed. You can follow a page without liking it if you prefer. Whichever you pick, Facebook’s algorithm will choose what you see. If you regularly interact with a page (like, comment, share), you are more likely to see their posts.

You can also select the option to get notifications from your favourite pages (go to the page, click on the ‘following’ tab, turn notifications on and choose the options you want e.g. ‘all posts’).

Looking for even more people to follow?

This is easiest on twitter. Pick some of your favourite accounts, see who they retweet and talk to, look at who they are following, and go follow the accounts you like the look of.

If you're looking for dogs to follow (rather than dog people), then Julie Hecht (details above) has published a list of dogs that rock on social media.

You will also always find interesting reading in my blogs to follow list, which updates automatically each time there is a new post.

You’ll find me on twitter, Facebook and pinterest, and of course you can also subscribe to Companion Animal Psychology by email. Subscribers can send me their thoughts on a post by simply hitting the reply button.

Now it’s your turn to add to the list! Please leave your suggestions in the comments box.

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Companion Animal Psychology...

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, Amazon.ca and Amazon.co.uk. (privacy policy)