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Showing posts from February, 2017

Irresistible: Emotions affect choice of breed despite welfare issues

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Knowing a breed of dog may have health problems does not stop people from wanting one, because emotions get in the way. 


A new Danish study by Peter S Sandøe (University of Copenhagen) et al investigates the reasons why people acquire particular small breeds of dog and how attached the owners feel to their pet. The research helps explain why some breeds are popular despite a high incidence of welfare problems. 
The study looked at people in Denmark with French Bulldogs, Chihuahuas, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Cairn Terriers.
The results suggest that even knowing a dog of a particular breed is likely to have health problems may not stop people from getting one, because of their emotional response to the breed. 
Lead author, Peter Sandøe told me in an email, “In all, this study prompts the conclusion that the apparent paradox of people who love their dogs continuing to acquire dogs from breeds with breed-related welfare problems may not be perceived as a paradox from the point …

The Function of Play Bows in Dog and Wolf Puppies

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New research casts doubt on an old explanation for the play bow – and suggests it’s all about more play.



The play bow is a glorious signal in dogs. The bum goes up and the elbows go down, leaving the rear end sticking up, usually accompanied by a lovely happy face (as pictured above). Not just reserved for other dogs, our canine friends will play bow to us too.

Traditionally, it was believed that the play bow serves as a signal to say something like, “I’m just playing, it’s not real!”, because many of the behaviours dogs perform in play – chasing, growling, biting, nipping, etc – can also be aggressive. But recent research with adult dogs has thrown that into question.

In 2016, Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere (University of Michigan), Julia Espinosa and Barbara Smuts looked at play bows between adult dogs. If the play bow functions to say “I’m only playing!” then you would expect to see more ‘offensive’ behaviour that could potentially be misinterpreted either just before or just after the p…

Companion Animal Psychology News February 2017

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





Some of my favourite posts from around the web this month
"Cats, on the other hand get a raw deal. Especially stray ones." Our cat in Havana by Will Grant.

Memory wins when dogs sleep. Julie Hecht on how sleep helps learning in dogs.

"I will never forget the first time a patient died at the clinic." Compassion fatigue, secondary trauma and burnout in the animal care profession by Dr. Vanessa Rohlf.

Opening the heart's floodgates, with a paw. Beautiful piece by Amy Sutherland about match-making people and dogs at a shelter.

The need for transparency in training and behaviour. Daniel Antolec writing for the Pet Professional Guild blog about the problem of false representations in the dog training and animal behaviour industry.

I can’t control neurodegeneration: on acceptance and letting go. Maureen Backman’s diary of life with her senior dog Earl.

International Cat Care on the problems fa…

"Dominance" Training Deprives Dogs of Positive Experiences

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Dominance is an outdated approach to dog training – and it also means dogs miss out on fun.



Approaches to dog training based on dominance rely on the idea that you have to be the ‘alpha’ or pack leader. Unfortunately, this type of dog training is not just out-of-date and potentially risky, but modern approaches to dog training are also a lot more fun – for you and the dog.


What is dominance in dog training?
We sometimes hear the phrase ‘my dog is being dominant.’ ‘Your dog is being dominant’ can even be an insult because it implies you are not confident enough.

What people mean by ‘dominant’ can be anything from your dog walking through a door in front of you, to jumping on you, or relaxing on the sofa, growling at you or winning a game of tug. For that reason alone, it’s not a very helpful description.

Let’s unpack these examples for a moment, because using a framework of dominance is taking away the person’s choice about things. It’s perfectly fine for your dog to walk in front of y…

Happy Dogs: Photos

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Gorgeous photos of happy dogs.


"Belle is full of sparkle!  Her favorite treat is without a doubt string cheese... Her best trick is she brings in the paper every morning and takes it right to her bed then gives it to us, and she also does a lovely bow that we call "tada"!"
Belle has her CGC and is a service dog and a Pet Partner's Therapy dog.
Photo: Heidi Steinbeck.




"Lola loooves any food but freaks over prosciutto or smoked salmon."
Photo: Claudine Prud'homme.





"Turtle will do almost anything you ask him for any piece of food you give. Some of his favourites are carrots, hotdogs and peanut butter. He is very food motivated.  Turtle's favourite thing to do is sit on the couch with the people he loves, and of course just looking handsome."
Photo: Charity Long.




"Howard's favourite treat is tuna fudge, and his favourite trick is waving hello."
Photo: Jennifer Phillips.




"Foxxy loves to train and learn and goes nuts for…

Timing and Attention Matter in Dog Training, New Study Shows

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Analysis of videos of dog training sessions show that getting the dog’s attention and good timing of rewards are linked to better results.



A new study looks at the interactions between people and dogs whilst teaching ‘lie down’. The results show the importance of the timing of rewards and of getting the dog’s attention in order to be successful in dog training.

The study is part of a wider research project at the University of Sydney into what they call “dogmanship.” I asked first author Dr. Elyssa Payne (University of Sydney) what this means.
“The formal definition for dogmanship is an individual's ability to interact with dogs,” she told me in an email. “So, someone with good dogmanship is more likely to get the best out of that dog (which could manifest in good obedience performance, working success or just a good companion relationship).” The study analysed 43 videos of dogs being trained to lie down that the researchers found on Youtube. The scientists used sequence analysis,…

Companion Animal Psychology Book Club: February 2017

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The book of the month is Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal.





The Companion Animal Psychology Book Club continues with discussion of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal.

From the inside, "Frans de Waal explores both the scope and the depth of animal intelligence. He offers a first-hand account of how science has stood traditional behaviourism on its head by revealing how smart animals really are, and how we've underestimated their abilities for so long."

Towards the end of the month, I will post my thoughts about the book. You will be able to leave your own thoughts on the book in the comments section.

Through the book club, we will learn more about companion animals and our relationship with them, and build up a nice library of books about animals and the human-animal bond. Of course, we'll also enjoy talking about the books.

Are you reading too?

What is Positive Reinforcement in Dog Training?

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A user-friendly guide to everything you need to know about positive reinforcement.



If you are new to dogs, or new to dog training, this article is for you. It covers technical definitions, the practicalities, reasons to use positive reinforcement and some common mistakes that people make.

At the end, there are suggested resources in case you want to learn more. Positive reinforcement training is fun, and lots of people get the training bug. Hopefully that will include you too.

When people talk about positive reinforcement dog training, they sometimes refer to it as positive dog training, force free dog training, clicker training, even science-based dog training. Some of these terms relate to a wider dog training philosophy as well as a specific method, and those philosophical and ethical issues are important. But positive reinforcement is also a technical term with a specific definition.

We’ll get the technical definition out of the way first.


What is positive reinforcement? 
Positi…