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Showing posts from September, 2017

Even Shy Shelter Cats Can Learn Tricks

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Researchers show that even old or shy cats can learn new tricks like high five or sit.



By Zazie Todd, PhD

If you think training cats is all the rage lately, you might be right. Recently I wrote about a study that found the best way to train cats was with food (rather than click-then-food or just click). Now another study, by Dr. Lori Kogan (Colorado State University) et al, investigates training shelter cats to do four different behaviours.

Not only did most of the cats learn the tricks, but it shows this is possible even in a shelter setting which is inevitably stressful for the cats.

100 shelter cats were taught to nose-target either a chopstick or the trainer’s finger, to spin, to sit, and to high-five (touch the trainer’s hand with one of their front paws). The trainers took the traditional clicker training approach, in which the click is a bridge that marks the behaviour and predicts a food reward.

Fifteen 5-minute training sessions took place over a 2 week period, at the end of w…

Companion Animal Psychology News September 2017

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Make sure you haven't missed a thing with the latest favourites and news from Companion Animal Psychology



By Zazie Todd, PhD
Some of my favourite posts from around the web this month
"When you have a frenzied dog barking, growling, screeching, and lunging at the end of a lead, the idea that the dog is simply frustrated by an inability to investigate that other dog is not the first thing that comes to mind." Dog play and cognitive biases by Lisa Skavienski at Your Pit Bull and You.

Puppy-farmed dogs show worse behaviour, suffer ill health and die young – so adopt don’t shop by Catherine Douglas.

“Ever heard the phrase “you get the dog you need”? Or even the thought that some dogs are “special” or universally arranged to land in our lives at the right time? The idea that some of our dogs will be game-changers over the course of our career.” Game changers by the Cognitive Canine.  

What it’s like to be a dog. Marc Bekoff interviews Gregory Berns about his new book.

“Next time…

Resources at Companion Animal Psychology

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From the people and blogs to follow to dog training research, there are lots of resources for dog and cat people here at Companion Animal Psychology.


By Zazie Todd, PhD

In the five and a half years that I’ve been writing Companion Animal Psychology, I’ve built up a sizeable back catalogue of blog posts about science and our pets. I’ve also made a number of resources for readers who want to know more. Since there are many new readers lately, I thought I’d make a list so you can find everything.




Dog Training Research Resources
The science of dog training is a source of fascination for many dog trainers, and it makes an important contribution to animal welfare too. Research in this field looks at topics such as the methods ordinary people use to train their dogs (and how obedient they think their dog is as a result), the potential effects of different dog training methods on fear, anxiety, stress and aggression in dogs, as well as fascinating topics such as how dogs respond to praise, pet…

Shortlisted for Canada's Favourite Science Blog

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Companion  Animal Psychology is shortlisted for the People's Choice Award: Canada's Favourite Science Blog. Vote for your favourites!





By Zazie Todd, PhD

I am thrilled to have been short-listed for the People's Choice Award: Canada's Favourite Science Blog.
You can see the shortlist and vote here on the Science Borealis website. Voters can select their three favourite blogs and three favourite science websites (so you have six votes in total). It's a great way to show support for your favourite science sites and blogs and find new ones to follow too.
You can follow the contest on social media via the hashtag #CdnSciFav. Every day from now until the close of voting on 14th October, Science Borealis and SWCC will be promoting the short-listed blogs and websites on social media. The contest is part of Science Literacy Week (#scilit17) here in Canada which celebrates science with events across the country. 
Three finalists in each category will be announced during the we…

Do Dogs Use Body Language to Calm Us Down?

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Are lip licking and looking away signals of discomfort and expressions of peace in the domestic dog?

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



A study by Dr. Angelika Firnkes (Ludwig Maximilians University Munich) et al., 2017 has found that the domestic dog uses appeasement gestures both when feeling threatened and during greetings with humans. For the first time it has now been shown that dogs will use at least two of these signals, the lip lick and look away, to appease their human social companions. Turid Rugaas (2005) had previously described a set of behaviours in dogs, including the lip lick and looking away, through years of working as a behavioural consultant, that she described as ‘Calming Signals’. Rugaas (2005) explained that the dogs would use these ‘Calming Signals’ when feeling uncomfortable and attempting to prevent aggressive responses from their conspecifics and humans. For the first time scientific research has supported this theory in relation to …

The Best Way to Train Cats is With Food

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Using food alone is the quickest way to train cats to touch a target, according to this pilot study.


By Zazie Todd, PhD

You can train cats to go up to a target and touch it with their nose. This in itself will be news to many people, but researchers at Massey University have investigated the best way to train cats to do this. It involves food.

There’s a lot of interest in training cats at the moment, not necessarily to perform obedience behaviours like sit and stay, but to help them in their daily lives. You can teach your cat to like going in their cat carrier so trips to the vet don’t have to begin with you getting scratched-up arms. And you can use positive reinforcement to help teach your cat where they are allowed to scratch (along with provision of the right scratching post, of course).

Erin Willson et al picked the behaviour of touching a red wand target with the nose, and set about training 9 cats to do this. They divided them into three groups: one that was rewarded with food…

Companion Animal Psychology Book Club September 2017

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The book of the month is Pets on the Couch by Nicholas Dodman.



By Zazie Todd, PhD

The Companion Animal Psychology Book Club choice for September 2017 is Pets on the Couch: Neurotic Dogs, Compulsive Cats, Anxious Birds, and the New Science of Animal Psychiatry by Nicholas Dodman.

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From the cover:
"Racehorses with Tourette's syndrome, spinning dogs with epilepsy, cats with compulsive disorders, feather-plucking parrots with anxiety, and a diffident bull terrier with autism - these astonishing and difficult cases were all helped by what pioneering veterinarian Dr. Nicholas Dodman calls One Medicine, the profound recognition that humans and other animals share the same basic neurochemistry, and that our minds and emotions work in similar ways. Traditional veterinary treatments did not cure these behaviors because they treated the symptoms as disorders of the body, rather than problems of the mind.   Dr. Dodman, the Oliver Sacks of animal brains, d…