14 November 2018

Do dogs run faster for more treats or better quality treats?

Scientists find out which rewards dogs will run faster for, and the results explain why you need to use good treats in dog training.

Do dogs prefer better quality treats or more treats? The implications for dog training from a study of what makes dogs run faster, like this beautiful dog running through a field.
Photo: Dora Zett / Shutterstock

Modern dog trainers use positive reinforcement to train dogs, and that reinforcement often takes the form of food (see the ultimate dog training tip to find out why).

When you want a dog to come when you call them, you want to use your best training treats as a reward.

But scientists have paid surprisingly little attention to what dogs consider worth working for – until now.

A recent paper by Dr. Stefanie Riemer et al, published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, looks at the relative effectiveness of quality and quantity of reinforcement as measured by how fast dogs run to the bowl they can eat it from.

Pet dogs were trained to run along a walkway that was 20 metres long in order to obtain food. The type of food (quantity or quality) was shown by the containers that were visible to the dog from the start position.

The first study compared one piece of dry food to five pieces of dry food. This was signalled to the dog by the presence of one or five blue bowls containing the food.

But dogs did not run any faster for a greater amount of the dry food.

In the second study, the scientists compared a piece of sausage to a piece of dry food. The type of reinforcement available was shown by the food being in a black or a white bowl.

Dogs ran significantly faster to get the piece of sausage than the piece of dry food.

Interestingly, they still ran fast when the reinforcement was changed to dry food instead of sausage, perhaps because it was a novel item. But the scientists note the pet dogs may have had prior life experience of sometimes receiving no or lower value reinforcement, and this could also explain this result.

The next question on many dog trainers’ minds will be about the effects of one versus multiple pieces of sausage. However this was not tested, so remains a question for future research.

Prior to testing preference by running speed, the scientists did a more standard preference test to see how much time dogs spent looking at, sniffing or attempting to lick the different food items when they were inaccessible behind a wire mesh.  These results, contrary to the runway task, showed a preference for both quality and quantity.

This is a small study as only 19 pet dogs completed all parts of the experiment, so more research is needed. But it is really nice to see researchers paying attention to this kind of question.

The results show that the quality of treats makes a difference to dogs. If you want good results in training, it’s important to know what motivates the dog.

If you love Companion Animal Psychology, you can support me on ko-fi.

Riemer, S., Ellis, S. L., Thompson, H., & Burman, O. H. (2018). Reinforcer effectiveness in dogs—The influence of quantity and quality. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 206:87-93. DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2018.05.016

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12 November 2018

Celebrating Two Years of the Animal Book Club

Great books about animals, discussed amongst friends… The Companion Animal Psychology Book  Club is two years old.

Celebrating two years of the Animal Book Club for people who love books and love animals

This month the Companion Animal Psychology Book Club is two years old.

I started the book club in November 2016, intending it to be a small group. Within a couple of days several hundred people had joined and I stopped accepting new members because I did not want the group to get too big.

The first book was The Trainable Cat by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis, which remains one of my favourites of all the ones we’ve read. Other personal favourites include Being a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz, How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog) by Lee Dugatkin and Lyudmila Trut, and Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog. I was also pleased to re-read Plenty in Life Is Free by Kathy Sdao with the book club.

But it's really hard to pick favourites because I've enjoyed them all, and every single one is well worth reading! Rather than mention them all here, you can see a full list in the Animal Book Club Amazon store or on the book club page. If you're looking for something animal-related to read, it's a great place to find a good book.

Members choose the books, and they are always excellent choices! This month’s book is Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words by John W. Pilley with Hilary Hinzmann.

Celebrating two years of the animal book club. Here, a dog relaxes by a book.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to interview the authors of some of the book club choices, which has been a real honour (and great fun too). You can read those interviews here:

The book club reads ten books a year, taking January and July off. If you’d like to join, follow the instructions on the book club page.

Celebrating two years of the animal book club for people who love animals and love books

I also recently started a Facebook group called Animal Books for those who would like to chat about books, share news about new titles and interviews with authors, without the commitment to read a book a month. The group shares the same commitment to humane and kind treatment of animals (and people) as the Animal Book Club.

I always post the book of the month to this blog, and many people read the books alongside the book club too.

Celebrating two  years of the animal book club for people who love animals and books. Here, a fox curls up to sleep

Along the way, I’ve had fun choosing some nice photos for the announcements of each month’s book. But since it gets expensive to keep buying stock photos, I’ve switched to a standard frame that uses some of my favourite images.

Would you like a sneak preview of what we’re reading next month? It will be The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods.

What are your favourite books about animals?

Celebrating two years of the animal book club. Here, a cup of coffee and a book by a pond of koi carp

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07 November 2018

How to Feed Your Cat: The Modern Guide to Feline Foraging

The best way to feed cats has changed. Instead of leaving kibble in a bowl, here’s what you should do now.

How to feed your cat. Instead of leaving kibble in a bowl (pictured), here's what to do instead
Photo: Africa  Studio / Shutterstock

It used to be simple: put kibble in a bowl and leave it out all day.

But that’s not how we should be feeding our pet cats. A new consensus statement from the American Association of Feline Practitioners explains the way we feed cats now.

The AAFP says are several reasons to think more carefully about you feed your cat. One is the increase in overweight and obesity in pet cats, which is bad for their health (see: how to help a fat cat lose weight).

Another reason is that using food puzzles for cats is a great enrichment activity that engages cats’ hunting instincts. This is especially important now that most pet cats are kept indoors for a lot or all of the time.

As well, having the right feeding system can help to keep feline stress levels low. This is especially important in households with more than one cat.

Read on to find out the modern way to feed a cat.

Use puzzle feeders

Puzzle feeders are toys that make the cat work to get the food out. For example, a ball with a hole in that lets pieces of kibble fall out when the cat pushes the ball around. Or something the cat has to reach into with a paw to get the kibble.

There are many different commercially available food puzzle toys, but it’s also very easy to make your own. Most are designed for dry food like kibble, but some also work with wet food.

When your cat is new to food puzzles, you need to make them easy and use treats; over time, your cat can progress to more difficult food toys.

For reviews of many different types of food puzzles, check out foodpuzzlesforcats.

How to feed your cat: Multiple small meals a day with food toys, different locations, and separated resources

Frequent small meals for cats

The AAFP recommend the cats’ daily calorie count is split into multiple small meals throughout each 24 hour period.

Although they do not specify how many meals a day is ideal for cats, International Cat Care suggest you feed your cat five (or more) small meals a day.

Since it is likely you will be out for some of those meals, you can use an automated feeder and set the timer to provide a meal when you are at work.

Feed High Up and in Different Places

Cats like to be high up, and so food does not have to be provided on the floor. In fact, the AAFP recommend that you use high places to feed your cat.

But they caution that for some cats, such as those with arthritis, this may not be possible.

For all cats, change the location of the food instead of feeding in the same place each time. This way cats have to use their senses (such as their nose) to forage for it.

Keep food and water separate

Cats prefer to have their resources separated, so that means food should be kept separate from water. And it needs to be in a place(s) the cat feels safe.

How to feed your cat: multiple small meals a day, via food toys, and other rules of feeding cats these days
It's easy to make DIY food toys for your cat. Photo: jessjeppe / Shutterstock

As well, food and water should of course be in a different location than the litter boxes.

Separate food in multi-cat households

If you have more than one cat, you need to take account of the relationship between the cats when feeding them.

Although some cats may get on well and not mind, most cats would prefer to eat separately. Remember they are solitary hunters and would normally hunt and eat on their own.

So if you have multiple cats, make sure their food is separate. They should be able to eat their food in peace without seeing the other cats.

If need be, you can get crafty and put one cat's meals in locations other pets cannot reach or squeeze into, and/or use automatic feeders that will only open for the correct animal's microchip.

Keep an eye on your cat’s weight

Your vet will weigh your cat at each appointment, but the AAFP recommend that you monitor your cat’s weight. If you have any concerns, speak to your veterinarian.

They also say that treats should not make up more than 10% of the cat's daily calorie intake.

How to feed cats

So that’s how to feed cats: Five (or more) small meals a day, via puzzle feeders left in different locations, preferably high up, separate from the water bowl, and away from other cats in the household.

If you have any questions or concerns about you cat's weight or food, speak to your veterinarian.

Do you already follow these guidelines when feeding your cat? How many meals a day do you give your cat?

P.S. If you love Companion Animal Psychology, you can support me on ko-fi.

You might also like:  Five things to do for your cat today and how to make the world better for cats.

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04 November 2018

Companion Animal Psychology Book Club November 2018

"The most scientifically important dog in over a century." —Brian Hare.

Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words is the Animal Book Club choice for October

The Companion Animal Psychology Book Club choice for November 2018 is Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words by John W. Pilley with Hilary Hinzmann.

From the back cover, 
"Chaser has fascinated dog lovers and scientists alike. Her story reveals the potential for taking out dialogue with dogs well beyond "fetch." When retired psychology professor John Pilley first got his new Border collie puppy, Chaser, he wanted to explore the boundaries of language learning and communication between humans and man's best friend. Exhibiting intelligence previously thought impossible in dogs, Chaser soon learned the names of more than a thousand toys and sentences with multiple elements of grammar. Chaser's accomplishments are revolutionizing the way we think about the intelligence of animals. John and Chaser's inspiring journey demonstrates the power of learning through play and opens our eyes to the boundless potential in the animals we love."

Will you be reading too?

Visit the Animal Book Club Amazon store or the book club page to buy this or other book club choices.

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31 October 2018

Can Synthetic Pheromones Help With Aggression in Multi-Cat Households?

Promising results from a pilot study of synthetic cat-appeasing pheromones (Feliway Multicat) for aggression between cats that live together.

Can Feliway Multicat  help resolve aggression between cats that live together? Promising results from a randomized controlled trial
Photo: Samarsky / Shutterstock

Cat owners know only too well that cats can be choosy. As solitary hunters, the domestic cat can do just fine alone and does not have to be friends with other members of the species. On the other hand, cats can live in social groups, especially in colonies of female cats and their offspring, when female cats will help care for each other’s young.

Many people have multiple pet cats and they aren’t always friends. It is obvious cats don’t get along if they fight. But there are also more subtle signs of cat aggression, such as when one cat blocks another cat’s access to a resource like the litter box. As well as bouts of aggression, when cats don’t get along they may hold urine for too long, pee outside the box, suffer feline idiopathic cystitis, over-eat or lose weight, or sometimes (if they have outdoors access) one of them may even leave home.

Resolving aggression between cats may involve reintroducing cats, changes to the layout of the home (such as multiple, separated resources), behavioral work such as counter-conditioning, and/or medication.

A study by veterinary behaviourist Dr. Theresa DePorter and colleagues, published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and  Surgery, investigates the effectiveness of a synthetic cat-appeasing pheromone in resolving cases of aggression in multi-cat households.

As the scientists write in the introduction to the paper,
“The wellbeing of millions of cats may be enhanced if cats got along with housemate cats.”
Although this is a pilot study, it is a double-blind randomized controlled trial with a placebo.

Pheromones are semiochemicals, that is, chemicals with meaning. Pheromones are very important to cats and some help maintain social cohesion.

The synthetic cat-appeasing pheromone used in the study is FELIWAY MultiCat which is made by Ceva, who funded the research. In Europe it is called Feliway Friends. It is a synthetic version of the pheromones that are produced by mother cats when the kittens are young, especially during the sensitive period for socialization in kittens, which is 2-7 weeks of age.

The synthetic pheromone is in a diffuser that is plugged into a socket. Therefore the placebo was also a plug-in and looked the same.

Can pheromone plug-ins like Feliway Multicat help with aggression between cats in the same house? Promising results from a study.
Photo: joyfuldesigns / Shutterstock

Forty-five people with 2-5 cats in the home and who reported aggression between cats were enrolled in the study. Three households did not complete the study and so the final sample was 17 households that received Feliway Multicat and 25 that received the placebo.

One week before the start of the treatment, participants attended a 90-minute training session with a board-certified veterinary behaviourist. The session included information and video to teach them how to recognize feline aggression and how to tell the difference between play and aggression. As well, participants were given information on counter-conditioning, advice on what to do if their cats were being aggressive, and told not to use punishment (e.g. spray bottles) or startle their cats. (For more on why you shouldn’t use spray bottles for cats, see this nice post from Julie Hecht).

Participants drew a plan of their house and the scientists decided the best place to plug in the two diffusers (either Feliway Multicat or placebo). The diffusers were used for 28 days during which cat owners filled out a daily diary and a weekly questionnaire about their cats’ behaviour.

Even before the start of the treatment, rates of reported aggression dropped, likely due to the education session. Twelve types of aggressive behaviour between cats were included in the questionnaire.

During the 28-day period of using the plug-ins, aggression decreased in both groups, but it decreased significantly more in the group using Feliway Multicat. During a two-week follow-up, aggressive behaviours remained low in the group that had used Feliway Multicat, but began to go up in the placebo group.

There was no difference between the two groups in terms of affiliate behaviours such as nose-touching, sleeping in the same room, or licking the head or neck of another cat. This category also included affiliative behaviours towards humans, such as whether all cats came to greet the person when they arrived home.

At the end of the study, participants were asked if their cats were getting along better. 84% of the people who had used Feliway Multicat said yes, compared to 64% of those who had the placebo.

47% of the cats in this study were declawed, a much higher proportion than the average in the US (24%). The scientists cite other, unpublished, research that suggests a link between declawing of cats and aggression between cats that live together. Research also shows declawed cats suffer pain and other adverse effects (Martell-Moran et al 2017; you can read more about it in this great post by Dr. Mikel Delgado).

Where I live (BC), declawing of cats is banned, but if you are somewhere this procedure is legal, you should be aware that it has many risks for your cat. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association calls this surgery “unacceptable.”

But back to the pheromone study. It used owner observations and it is possible people missed some behavioural signs, even though they received training. Participants in the study were given information at the education session, but if owners simply use synthetic pheromones on their own without learning more about cat behaviour they may not see the same results. As well, it would be nice to see a longer follow-up period in future research.

This is the first time Feliway Multicat has been tested in a randomized controlled trial. For more on previous research on other synthetic pheromones for cats, see this list compiled by Dr. Mikel Delgado.

The scientists conclude,
“In this study, treatment with a proprietary cat-appeasing pheromone diffuser for 4 weeks showed a beneficial effect in the management of feline aggression in multi-cat households. During the study, when cat owners were educated by a board-certified veterinary behaviourist about feline behavior, provided instruction on handling aggressive events and discouraged from punishing cats (eg, squirt guns or other startle methods), the level of conflict began to decrease even prior to implementation of the treatment. Pheromones may be useful as a component of a complete behavior-modification program.”
While more research is needed, these are promising results that suggest Feliway Multicat may help as part of the treatment for aggression between cats living in the same home. The study is open access (link below).

If you have more than one cat, how well do your cats get on with each other?

If you love Companion Animal Psychology, you can support me on Ko-fi.

DePorter, T. L., Bledsoe, D. L., Beck, A., & Ollivier, E. (2018). Evaluation of the efficacy of an appeasing pheromone diffuser product vs placebo for management of feline aggression in multi-cat households: a pilot study. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098612X18774437
Martell-Moran, N. K., Solano, M., & Townsend, H. G. (2018). Pain and adverse behavior in declawed cats. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 20(4), 280-288. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098612X17705044

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21 October 2018

Companion Animal Psychology News October 2018

The latest news including an evidence-based guide to pets, what it's like growing up with wolves, and anxiety in pets and us.

Companion Animal Psychology News October 2018

Some of my favourites from around the web this month

The Psychologist guide to … pets. I love these evidence-based tips on pets put together by Ella Rhodes.

“Fido” or “Freddie”? Why do some pet names become popular? A fun and interesting post from Prof. Hal Herzog, complete with a quiz to test how popular your dogs’ names are.

Do you want to know what the umwelt of a dog is? And what canine science experiments look like? The Scientist Podcast interviews Dr. Alexandra Horowitz

“Treating my cat for depression caused me to question the state of anxiety in animals and us.” Can a cat have an existential crisis? by Britt Peterson.

Secrets of getting pee and poop samples from Fear Free. A tricky thing that many pet owners have to do sooner or later… what to do next time you need to take a sample to the vet.

Caring for senior and geriatric cats by Pam Johnson-Bennett.

“What Rodríguez remembers of his time living wild is that it was “glorious”” The story of Marco Rodriguez, abandoned as a child and raised by wolves. Available as a podcast and text version. By Matthew Bremner.

“Most of the students have had enough of nature red in tooth and claw and many lament, "Look where that 'I'm behaving like an animal' excuse got me."” Inmates and art Connecting with animals helps soften them. Dr. Marc Bekoff reflects on 17 years of his Roots and Shoots humane education class at the Boulder County Jail.

What’s wrong with anti-bark collars? Sylvie Martin from Crosspaws Dogs explains.

Do dogs forget their people? Scientists Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere, Stefano Ghirlanda, Rachelle Yankelevitz, Lynette Hart, Ruth Colwill, Nicholas Dodman and Clive Wynne answer the question at Gizmodo. By Daniel Kolitz.

Support Companion Animal Psychology

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A big thank you to everyone who has supported me so far. It is very much appreciated! And I am also grateful for the lovely notes you have sent.

Animal Book Club

The Companion Animal Psychology Book Club choice for October is The Dog: A Natural History by Adam Miklosi. It’s a beautifully-illustrated book about the evolution, anatomy, cognition and behavior of dogs.

The Dog: A Natural History is the Animal Book Club choice for October 2018

For those who want to chat about animal books without the commitment to read and comment on a book every month, I started a new Facebook group called Animal Books. Come and share new releases, interviews with authors and your favourite books (fiction and nonfiction) about companion animals.

I've set up an Amazon page with a list of all the books from the Book Club, as well as some other pet-related items too.

Here at Companion Animal Psychology

I’m thrilled to have a piece about dogs in the special issue of The Psychologist magazine on The Psychologist’s Tree of Life. It’s a fascinating issue from start to finish. Look in particular for pieces on dogs by Dr. Julianne Kaminski and Prof. Clive Wynne, but many non-human species are included.I recommend scrolling down to the bottom of the page and downloading the pdf to read so you can see the beautiful artwork commissioned for the piece from Adam Batchelor.

I spoke to Animal Radio about what pets want from people (scroll down to episode 981).

Overweight and obesity in pets is at very high levels. At Psychology Today, I wrote about a study that reviewed the effects of interventions designed to change owner behaviour. It turns out that for overweight dogs, owner behaviour matters

Also at Psychology Today, I wrote about a pilot study that investigated whether you should pet your dog before an absence. (Note the study was only with dogs who don’t have separation-related issues). Dr. Marc Bekoff responded to my post and shared some of his data in should you say goodbye to your dog before you leave them?

Here at Companion Animal Psychology, Survey shows changes as dogs age (and how you can help your dog) looks at research on dogs across the lifespan. One of the most interesting findings is about the apparent effects of trauma on canine behaviour.

Five fun things to do to make your dog happy is, well, about fun things to do with your dog

Do dogs and cats get along looks at a survey of people who have both a dog and a cat. It seems the cat’s level of feeling comfortable with the dog is an important factor in their relationship.

And a short petting session improves wellbeing in shelter dogs looks at a study that set out to answer a simple question: Is a 15-minute session with a trained volunteer who will pet the dog (respecting the dog’s wishes) good for dogs?

I've been working very hard on edits to my book and I'll be honest, I'm looking forward to a break soon!

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A Better World for Dogs

It’s hard to believe, but this is the final image from the series about a better world for dogs and a better world for cats. Thank you to all the experts who shared their wonderful ideas!

Companion Animal Psychology News October 2018: A Better World for Dogs

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17 October 2018

A Short Petting Session Improves Wellbeing in Shelter Dogs

For shelter dogs, spending 15 minutes with a volunteer who will pet them when they want is beneficial according to both physiological and behavioural measures.

A 15 minute petting session is enough to help shelter dogs' well-being.
Photo: ESB Basic / Shutterstock

Dogs in shelters may be deprived of human company. Can a short petting session help them feel better? A study published earlier this year by Dr. Ragen McGowan et. al. and published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science investigated the effects of petting from a stranger and found positive results.

The scientists set out to answer the question, “Does one 15-min petting session make a positive difference for shelter dogs?”

And the answer was yes.

The report concludes,
“As predicted, positive physiological and behavioral changes were evident in shelter dogs even after only a single 15-min petting session with an unfamiliar volunteer. A complete understanding of the human-animal bond from the dog’s perspective is still in its infancy, however this work contributes to the mounting evidence that humans play an important part in the emotional wellbeing of companion animals. As a result of this study it is clear that: “Yes, 15 min can make a difference” for many shelter dogs when that time includes close interaction with a person petting and speaking to them in a calm manner. “
55 shelter dogs took part in the study at a county animal shelter in Maryville, Missouri.

A handler took each dog individually to a small observation room where one of five volunteers – who had never been to the shelter before – was waiting to begin the 15 minute session. The volunteer either sat on a chair or on a blanket on the floor.

Whenever the dog approached the volunteer, they would pet the dog and speak nicely, taking into account the dog’s preferences e.g. if the dog seemed to be presenting particular areas to be petted.

The researchers took measures of salivary cortisol and heart rate, as well as coding the behaviours the dogs engaged in during sessions.

The dogs were divided into three groups based on the results. Highly engaged dogs spent more than three-quarters of the time interacting with the volunteer, moderately engaged dogs spent between half and three-quarters of the time, and indifferent dogs spent less than half the time engaged with the volunteer.

Comparing the end of the session to the beginning, dogs in all three groups had a reduced heart rate. As well, dogs that were highly or moderately engaged with the volunteer had an increase in heart rate variability.

Overall, the dogs spent less time soliciting contact from the volunteer and less time standing up at the end of the session compared to the beginning.

Salivary cortisol samples could only be taken from 32 of the dogs. Results showed no difference in levels before and after the session. However, since cortisol is a measure of arousal rather than stress, this is hard to interpret.

Overall, these results suggest the petting sessions were beneficial for the dogs.

Other research has also shown that shelter dogs like petting. The nice thing about the new study is that it shows just one 15-minute session with a volunteer the dog has never met before can make a difference.

Dogs were only selected for the study if they were healthy and known to be friendly. They had all been at the shelter for at least two weeks so they had had time to settle in.

It’s important to note the dogs were given a choice – if they did not approach the volunteer, they were not petted – and the volunteers were trained in how to pet the dogs.

While more research is needed, the finding that petting from someone the dog had never met before led to behavioural and physiological changes speaks to the value of contact with people for dogs’ emotional wellbeing.

Where does your dog prefer to be petted?

If you love Companion Animal Psychology, you can support me on Ko-fi. And subscribe to Companion Animal Psychology to get the latest posts by email.

You might also like: How to pet cats and dogs and great photos are important to dog adoption.

McGowan, R. T., Bolte, C., Barnett, H. R., Perez-Camargo, G., & Martin, F. (2018). Can you spare 15 min? The measurable positive impact of a 15-min petting session on shelter dog well-being. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 203, 42-54.

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10 October 2018

Do Dogs and Cats Get Along? Ask the Cat!

Dogs and cats living together get along most of the time, but it’s the cat’s level of comfort with the dog that is the defining factor, according to research.

Dogs and cats living together are often friends, but it's the cat's comfort with the dog that matters most
Photo: Plastique/Shutterstock

With 94.2 million pet cats and 89.7 million pet dogs in the US, it’s inevitable that some dogs and cats live together. While we don’t know how many households have both a dog and a cat, scientists Jessica Thomson, Dr. Sophie Hall and Prof. Daniel Mills (University of Lincoln) recently published a questionnaire study of how well people think their dog and cat get along.

The results show that in general, dogs and cats living in the same house are friendly towards each other – but it’s the experience of the cat that is most important in mediating this relationship.

Early introduction of the cat to the dog (preferably before the cat is 1 year old) helped them to have a good relationship, whereas the age of the dog at first introduction was not important. (This is different to an earlier study that found early age of introduction for both cats and dogs was beneficial). 

In fact the most important factor in a good canine-feline relationship was the cat being comfortable in the dog’s presence.

It also helped if the dog was happy to share their bed with the cat, although cats were generally not willing to share their bed (perhaps because cat beds are typically not big enough to also accommodate a dog).

Cats generally would not share their food with the dog or take toys to show the dog, but if they did it was a sign of a good relationship.

Cats and dogs also got along better if the cat lived indoors, perhaps because they got to spend more time together and learn about each other. But it’s important to remember they should not be forced to interact; instead they should be able to choose whether or not to hang out together.

The relationship between dogs and cats was generally not described as close. For example, it was quite rare for them to groom each other.

The scientists say that because cats have not been domesticated for as long as dogs, it is likely harder for them to be comfortable around other animals. But they also point out that dogs can be a real risk for cats, as dogs may try to eat them, whereas cats are unlikely to cause serious harm to a dog.

Although aggression was most often reported from the cat towards the dog, it was likely because the cat felt threatened.

748 people completed the survey. 20.5% of cats and 7.3% of dogs were said to be uncomfortable in the other’s presence at least once a week. 64.9% of cats and 85.8% of dogs were said to be rarely or never uncomfortable in the other’s presence.

The study relied on owners’ reports of their dog’s and cat’s behaviour and did not make any independent observations – something for future research, especially as people are not always very good at recognizing signs of stress in their pets.

The results suggest that if your cat and dog are not friends, you should put extra effort into helping your cat feel comfortable around the dog.

If you have a dog and cat, how well do they get on with each other?

If you love Companion Animal Psychology, you can support me on Ko-fi. Visit my Amazon store for a list of all book club titles and other suggestions.

You might also like:
How to pet cats and dogs
The sensitive period for socialization in puppies and kittens
How can I tell if my dog is afraid?

Number of pets in the United States.
Thomson, J. E., Hall, S. S., & Mills, D. S. (2018). Evaluation of the relationship between cats and dogs living in the same home. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 27, 35-40. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2018.06.043

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07 October 2018

Companion Animal Psychology Book Club October 2018

"An accessible and richly illustrated introduction to the natural history of dogs―from evolution, anatomy, cognition, and behavior to the relationship between dogs and humans"

The October 2018 choice for the Animal Book Club is The Dog: A Natural History

The Companion Animal Psychology Book Club choice for October 2018 is The Dog: A Natural History by Ádám Miklósi.

From the cover,
"As one of the oldest domesticated species, selectively bred over millennia to possess specific behaviors and physical characteristics, the dog enjoys a unique relationship with humans. More than any other animal, dogs are attuned to human behavior and emotions, and accordingly play a range of roles in society, from police and military work to sensory and emotional support. Selective breeding has led to the development of more than three hundred breeds that, despite vast differences, still belong to a single species, Canis familiaris
The Dog is an accessible, richly illustrated, and comprehensive introduction to the fascinating natural history and scientific understanding of this beloved species. Ádám Miklósi, a leading authority on dogs, provides an appealing overview of dogs' evolution and ecology; anatomy and biology; behavior and society; sensing, thinking, and personality; and connections to humans."

Will you be reading too? Let me know your thoughts on the book!

You can find a list of all the past and upcoming book club titles on my Animal Book Club Amazon store. And check back often as I will be adding lists of some of my favourite books and dog and cat toys over the next few weeks.

Also new this month: The Animal Books Facebook group is for anyone who wants to chat about books about animals,  share book reviews, news about new titles and interviews with authors, and tell us about your favourite animal books (old and new). All welcome.

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06 October 2018

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! Tabby cat with pumpkins and walnuts

It is Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada and there is much to be grateful for.

I am thankful for such a wonderful community of people who want to learn more about companion animals. I am thankful to have met so many amazing people as a result of writing this blog. And I am thankful for every one of you who, in your own way, does something to make the world a better place for pets (and people).

Happy Thanksgiving!

The beautiful photo of a tabby cat with pumpkins and walnuts is by Nailia Schwarz/Shutterstock.

30 September 2018

Fellow Creatures: Another New Post

I have a new post at my Psychology Today blog, Fellow Creatures, about a pilot study that upturns some conventional wisdom on dogs.

Should you pet your dog before an absence? looks at a study that compared signs of stress when the dog is petted or ignored before an absence. (It's important to note the study is with dogs that do not have any separation-related issues).

A new post at Psychology Today looks at research on whether we should pet dogs, like this little dog on a sofa, before we go out
Photo: Pexels/Pixabay

26 September 2018

Five Fun Things to Do to Make Your Dog Happy Today

Five enjoyable activities to provide enrichment for your dog (and fun for you).

Five fun things to do for your dog today. The best enrichment ideas for your dog. Illustrated by a portrait of an Australian Shepherd

Enrichment means giving your dog opportunities to engage in species-specific behaviours and to use their brain and all the senses. Environmental enrichment means making your dog’s living spaces fun and interesting so your dog does not get bored.

There are lots of ways to provide enrichment for your dog. It can involve play with toys, spending time in social activities with people or other dogs, making the environment more interesting, or training activities.

Here are five great ways to provide enrichment for your dog and make your dog happy today.

1. Go on a sniffari

We all know that dogs have amazing noses, but did you know scent is more important to dogs than sight?

In fact, as well as their nose, dogs have something called the vomeronasal organ, which detects pheromones (chemical signals). If you see your dog lick something smelly, it could be because this is one way they make molecules available to their vomeronasal organ (the other is the Flehmen response, when they chatter their teeth with what looks like a grimace on their face).

And some breeds of dog have up to a billion olfactory receptor cells at the back of their noses*.

It’s no wonder dogs want to spend so much time sniffing even a single blade of grass! They get a lot of information from sniffing the places where other dogs have peed (or even their own pee… they are dogs, after all!).

We can give dogs the chance to use their nose by taking them on a sniffari. Instead of hurrying your dog along on a walk, let them take as long as they like to sniff. And let them follow their nose, instead of taking a predetermined path (within reason, of course).

Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, scientist at Barnard College and author of Being a Dog, told me that dogs “sniff first, and ask their eyes to confirm or deny. Their world is made of scents more than sights.” (see: how to make the world better for dogs).

So make time to take your dog on a sniffari and turn the walk into enrichment for your dog.

Five fun things to do to make your dog happy today. No 1: Go on snifair. This Dalmatian dog is enjoying a sniffari on the frosty grass
A Dalmatian on sniffari. Photo: Sergey  Fatin/Shutterstock

2. Use food toys

Food toys are another great way to provide enrichment for your dog and make your dog happy.

And there are all kinds to choose from so there is bound to be something your dog will enjoy.

You can use food toys to feed your dog’s meals (or part of them) or to provide treats.

If it’s your dog’s first time with a particular food toy, remember to make it nice and easy so they don’t get frustrated. It’s also a good idea to use some really nice treats to get your dog interested in the toy.

Over time, you can make the food toys harder.

For example, if you’re using a Kong, to begin with don’t stuff it too tight; use treats or kibble that will fall out easily. You can add a bit of peanut butter or cream cheese to make sure your dog enjoys it. As your dog gets more experienced, you can mix ingredients to stuff it with (e.g. mix cream cheese with kibble) and even freeze it before giving it to your dog.

One of my favourite dog puzzle toys is the brick treat puzzle toy by Nina Ottosson from Outward Hound. The Nina Ottosson range includes both easier and harder puzzles so you can get the level just right for your dog, and they are easily washable.

Other choices are the Kong Wobbler, the Pickle Pocket, and all kinds of balls with holes for the food to fall out of like the IQ Treat Ball.

Snuffle mats are another great idea (like the Wooly Snuffle Mat). And if you don’t have any food toys, you can also DIY your own or simply scatter pieces of food in the grass for your dog to find.

Five fun things to do to make your dog happy. Enrichment ideas for your dog, like this happy brown Goldendoodle puppy

3. Play a game

Dogs love hanging out with their humans, and they love playing games with their human even more.

Play with your dog is good for animal welfare and a good way to strengthen the bond between you and your dog.

So pick a game you know your dog loves – whether it’s tug or fetch or chase or whatever – and let them play as much as they wish.

Have a dog who never tires of playing fetch? No matter! Today is their day so keep on throwing the ball.

And if they love playing tug? Be sure to let them win lots of times. (For some reason some dog trainers used to say you should never let your dog win, but that’s not true – in fact, scientific research has shown dogs who are allowed to win are more involved in the game).

Some common signals that encourage dogs to play with you include the play bow, chasing, running away, a quick bow at the waist, tapping your chest to encourage the dog to jump up, and lunging at the dog (in a playful not scary way, of course!). Using your voice to encourage the dog to play helps too.

If you’re playing fetch, some dogs find it hard to give you the ball back so you can throw it again. In this case you need two balls so you always have one to throw. Maybe over time you can teach your dog to drop the ball in your hand, but in the meantime don’t get frustrated – just throw the other ball.

Whatever game you pick, just have fun with your dog.

Five fun things to do to make your dog happy today. Enrichment activities your dog will love. Illustrated by a portrait of a happy dog
Photo: Jess Wealleans/Shutterstock

4. Do some positive reinforcement training

A study a few years back found dogs prefer to solve a problem to earn a reward than just to be given the reward. The scientists called it that “Eureka” feeling.

Training with positive reinforcement is a great way to give dogs opportunities to problem solve. It may even have long-term benefits too as one study found a history of lifelong positive reinforcement training is linked to smaller declines in attention in older dogs.

Pick a level that is right for your dog. Every time they do the right thing, they get a food reward. To be like a pro dog trainer, you should aim for about 10 rewards a minute!

It doesn’t matter what you pick to train. If your dog needs to learn obedience commands, that’s fine. Pick sit or loose leash walking or whatever you want to work on.

But if your dog already knows what they need to in order to have good manners, you can work on some tricks. From spin to play dead to jumping through your arms, you’ll never run out of ideas for new things to teach.

Not sure what to use as reinforcement? See the best dog training treats.

Five fun things to do to make your dog happy today. Enrichment your dog will love, number 4: positive reinforcement training, like this little dog being taught to sit pretty
Training with positive reinforcement is good enrichment for your dog. Photo: leungchopan/Shutterstock

5. Go somewhere with your dog

Pick a place your dog likes to go and take them on an outing to make them happy.

This counts as enrichment too because it lets the dog experience a different environment.

There are lots of ideas for things you could do.

A hike in the forest gives your dog a chance to explore and to enjoy the natural environment.

Maybe there is a lake or beach where your dog likes to swim.

Perhaps your dog loves the dog park, in which case you could take them there.

Maybe there is a dog-friendly pub, restaurant or café in your neighbourhood where you could go and hang out with your best canine friend for a while.

Some stores allow dogs on leash so your dog could just enjoy wandering round the store with you.

Or your dog could just come for a ride-along in the car, or to visit a friend or family member who your dog likes to see.

The aim is to find something you know your dog will enjoy, so take your dog’s preferences into account – if they don’t like the dog park, don’t make them go, for example.

Five fun things to do for your dog today to provide enrichment. Number 5: Take your dog somewhere with you
Photo: Mary Rice/Shutterstock

Does my dog like it?

A great question to ask yourself for each of these five ideas is whether your dog is enjoying the enrichment.

For example, are they engaging with the food toy, and are they willing to come and train with you or did they wander off and snooze instead?

The point of each of these ideas is to give your dog happy, fun experiences. So if they aren’t engaging the way you would like, see if you can tweak something to make it more fun.

One common issue is to make food toys or training too hard. Even if you think your dog is a genius, you want to make it easy enough that your dog will enjoy it. If they have to try too hard, they might get bored or frustrated. You can gradually make the toys or training harder over time, but start out nice and simple.

Another common issue where food is involved is to use kibble as reinforcement in dog training. Maybe you are lucky and have one of those dogs who will work for kibble (they do exist), but for most people, some kind of food upgrade is required, such as little pieces of chicken or peanut butter treats. For more about why we use food in training, see the ultimate dog training tip.

Five fun things to do to make your dog happy today. With enrichment, it's important to check the dog likes it and engages, like this Retriever with a tug rope
It's only enrichment if the dog actually engages with the enrichment. Photo: carolyn brule/Shutterstock

One other thing to check is that your dog is actually happy and enjoying the experience. Sometimes we think our dogs ought to like things – like trips to the dog park or swimming – but actually they don’t.

Every dog is an individual and it’s up to us to learn what they like and don’t like. If you see signs of fear in your dog figure out what you can do to help, whether it’s comforting your dog or taking them away from the situation (for more ideas, see eight tips to help fearful dogs feel safe). So if your dog hates to go places, maybe you could cuddle on the couch instead.

Remember, the whole point of enrichment is that your dog engages with it and enjoys it.

So have fun with these five tips.

What is your dog's favourite activity?

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*If you want to learn more about the dog's nose, I recommend Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell by Alexandra Horowitz. On p48, Horowitz writes, "Dogs have from two hundred million to one billion receptor cells, depending on the breed, compared to the six million in our noses."

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23 September 2018

Fellow Creatures: A New Post

I have a new post at my Psychology Today blog Fellow Creatures on how we can help overweight dogs.

Typically when dogs are overweight, changes are made to the diet, but perhaps the owner is an important part of the equation too. For overweight dogs, owner behavior matters looks at a review of the literature on interventions designed to change owner behavior. The results show they can be an effective way to improve the body condition of pet dogs.

Photo: danbar44/Pixabay

19 September 2018

Survey Shows Changes as Dogs Age (and How You Can Help Your Dog)

A study of dogs across the adult lifespan has important lessons for owners of dogs of any age. They range from tooth-brushing, training, and helping dogs cope with traumatic events.

Survey shows changes as dogs age, and lots of ways you can help your own dog. The lessons range from tooth-brushing, training, and helping dogs cope with traumatic events
Photo: Bad Monkey Photography

As dogs get older, they undergo changes similar to those that happen to humans as they age. This means dogs may be a good model for human aging, but also that those of us with older dogs could use more information about how to help them age well. The Senior Family Dog Project is looking at cognitive aging in dogs by combining behavioural, genetic and neuroscientific approaches.

A new paper from the team, first-authored by Dr. Lisa Wallis and published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, looks at the demographics of dogs across the lifespan.

Perhaps the most poignant finding is that dogs in the oldest age group (over 12) know fewer commands, take part in either one or no dog training activities, and spend less than 30 minutes a day engaged in play or other activities with the owner. Of course, older dogs may no longer ‘need’ obedience training as they are likely well-adjusted to family life, but these results suggest people could do more to engage senior dogs in fun activities.

It’s not known why the oldest dogs know fewer commands, as it could be the dogs had previously had less training, had less training at the time (causing them to forget commands they previously knew), or memory issues.

Dogs in the oldest age group also had less than 30 minutes a day of off-leash activities, which may reflect changes in their need and interest in exercise.

Older dogs were more likely to be unhealthy, have joint problems, tooth problems, and sensory decline. Loss of hearing and/or vision was significantly greater in dogs over 12 years compared to the 10-12 year age group.

In the youngest age group (1-3 years), 49% of the dogs were described as healthy, falling to only 5% of dogs aged over 12 years.

Changes dogs age (and how to help your senior dog). Training, tooth-brushing, and helping dogs cope with traumatic events are all  important

Overweight and obesity in pet dogs

Being overweight or obese is linked to many health risks for pet dogs, including a shorter life span and a greater risk of diabetes mellitus, urinary incontinence, and osteoarthritis.

In this study, dogs aged 3-6 or 8-10 years were more likely to be rated as unhealthy and/or to have sensory problems if they were overweight or obese. Being underweight was not linked to being unhealthy.

As dogs got older, they were more likely to be overweight.

Do mixed breeds live longer than purebreds?

The oldest age group in the study contained more mixed breeds and fewer purebreds, although it’s important to remember this is cross-sectional data and did not follow dogs through the lifespan. For example this may mean mixed breeds live longer, but it is also possible it reflects sampling issues or trends in breed popularity over time.

Purebred dogs were said to be unhealthy at a younger age than mixed breed dogs, suggesting that (at least for this sample) mixed breed dogs are healthier.

The effects of trauma on canine behaviour

One of the most interesting results of this study relates to the role of trauma in shaping a dog’s behaviour. Dog owners were asked if their dog had ever experienced trauma (which the researchers called "trauma status"). They were also asked if they thought their dog's behaviour had changed following a traumatic event.

Dog owners were more likely to say the dog’s behaviour had been affected by trauma if the dog had experienced one or more traumatic events. This was especially the case if the dog had experienced two or more traumatic events.

Traumatic events included changes in owner, time spent at a shelter, being lost for more than a day, changes in the family (such as the birth of a child or people moving out), and a traumatic injury, long-term disease or surgery. 43% of the dogs had experienced at least one such event.

The scientists write,
“Indeed, two or more of such events experienced in the dog’s lifetime resulted in a significant increase in the likelihood of dogs being allocated a “trauma” status. Moreover, since having a “trauma” status was associated with an increased likelihood of health problems/sensory loss, our study contributes to the growing evidence that chronic stress can have negative effects on health and lifespan in the domestic dog. The stress caused by traumatic events results in compromised welfare, and therefore interventions to prevent or alleviate the consequences of trauma should be implemented to improve quality of life in pet dogs.”

Dogs that had experienced a traumatic event were more likely to be unhealthy.

It’s worth noting that moving house, becoming pregnant or being mated, spending more or less time alone, having a change in the dogs in the household, or being neutered, did not contribute towards this trauma status.

The Survey

The survey of Hungarian dog owners looked at 1,207 adult dogs across six age groups: 1-3 (early adulthood), 3-6 years, 6-8, 8-10, 10-12, and 12 and above. Depending on the breed/size, dogs become seniors between 6 and 10 years of age, as large dogs tend to have a lower lifespan.

34.5% of the dogs were mixed breed and the remainder were purebreds. The most common breeds in the study were Labrador Retrievers, Hungarian Viszla, Golden Retrievers, Yorkshire Terriers, Dachshunds, German Shepherds, Bichon Havanese, Border Collies and Beagles.

Although the sample is not representative, it does seem likely the results will apply to senior dogs quite broadly.

Overall, the mixed breed and purebred dogs had roughly the same average weight and height (important because size of dog is linked to longevity), but there was greater variation in the purebred group.

65% of dogs were said to be of normal weight, but since this is based on owner's ratings it is possible the rates of overweight and obesity are an underestimate, as found in other studies (Rohlf et al 2010).

It’s also worth noting that, unlike some other research, the neuter status of the dogs was not linked to health.

Implications for Dog Owners

This research has a number of important implications for dog owners.

One is to keep your dog to a healthy weight, because overweight and obesity cause health problems just as they do for humans. This includes adjusting the diet, as senior dogs need fewer calories and a different food composition.

And because health problems are more common in old dogs, it’s important to see your veterinarian to treat the problems and troubleshoot ways to help your dog be more comfortable (such as mobility aids).

Another implication for dogs of all ages is to do what you can to help them cope with stressful or traumatic situations. Changes in family composition cannot be helped, but even if this is a stressful time for the humans, they need to help the dog adjust too, for example by helping the dog prepare for the arrival of a new baby and being kind if the dog seems to be grieving for someone who has passed away. If your dog is fearful, see 8 tips to help fearful dogs feel safe.

To help avoid the dog being lost for more than a day, you can teach a great recall and ensure your dog always has up-to-date identification including a microchip.

If your dog has a traumatic medical issue such as major surgery or injury, make sure you speak to your veterinarian about what can be done to help your dog whilst recovering at home. The book No walks? No worries!: Maintaining wellbeing in dogs on restricted exercise by Sian Ryan and Helen Zulch has some great ideas for dogs who are unable to take walks e.g. because of recent surgery.

Earlier research found a history of lifelong positive reinforcement training protects dogs against cognitive decline as they age. It seems like a good idea to keep up such training as an enrichment activity throughout the dog’s life. If the dog is already perfectly well-behaved, you can always teach tricks or do other activities using positive reinforcement.

Regular tooth-brushing will help to reduce tooth issues that are more often found in senior dogs (and is also good for health).

Finally, continue to involve older dogs in walks, family life and fun activities.


This is an interesting study that tells us more not just about older dogs but also about the deleterious effects of trauma and stress.

The results show older dogs have less time spent training, less activities with the owner, and less off-leash time. They also show guidance is needed on how to care for senior dogs, as well as on helping dogs to stay a healthy weight.

Research by the team is ongoing, so we can look forward to more findings in due course.

If you happen to have what the Senior Family Dog Project calls a ‘Methusaleh dog’ – one who weighs over 20kg and is aged 16 years or more, or who is under 20kg in weight and 20 years old or more – they would be grateful for a sample of your dog’s DNA for their research. You can read more about it here.

The paper itself is open access if you want to read it in full, and the authors have also put up a blog post about their research

Wallis, L. J., Szabó, D., Erdélyi-Belle, B., & Kubinyi, E. (2018). Demographic change across the lifespan of pet dogs and their impact on health status. Frontiers in veterinary science, 5, 200. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2018.00200
Rohlf, V. I., Toukhsati, S., Coleman, G. J., & Bennett, P. C. (2010). Dog obesity: can dog caregivers'(owners') feeding and exercise intentions and behaviors be predicted from attitudes?. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 13(3), 213-236.  https://doi.org/10.1080/10888705.2010.483871

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