09 December 2018

Fellow Creatures: A New Post

I have a new post at my Psychology Today blog Fellow Creatures about a study that looked at whether a dog walking program has benefits for people with intellectual disabilities who live in supported housing.

The results of this exploratory study found there were more friendly interactions with other people when a dog was present. Read more here.

Photo: dawnie206/Pixabay

05 December 2018

Dogs, Cats and Humans: The Best Sleep Partner...?

Women whose dog sleeps on the bed report better sleep than those with a human or feline sleeping partner.

The effects of co-sleeping with a dog, cat or human on women's sleep. Photo shows a dog and cat resting on the bed
Photo: Julie Vader/Shutterstock


Whether or not pets should be allowed to sleep on the bed is an age-old question. Some worry it will lead to a disturbed night’s sleep, while some old-fashioned dog trainers still claim it will spoil the dog. The latter argument is based on out-dated ideas about dominance and dog training and can be easily dismissed, but the issue of sleep quality is starting to get researchers attention.

A new study by Dr. Christy Hoffman (Canisius College) et al and published in Anthrozoƶs asked women about who sleeps in/on the bed with them and how good they thought their sleep was over the previous month.

The results show dogs are a less disruptive sleep partner than another human, while cats are just as disruptive as humans. Dogs are perceived as providing more comfort and security than another human, while cats provide even less.


Not only that, but women with a dog (or a dog and a cat) go to bed earlier and get up earlier than women with just a cat. They also have more regular sleep/wake times throughout the week, perhaps because of the need to provide toilet breaks for the dog. Regular sleep/wake times have been linked to better sleep quality in other research.

Dr. Christy Hoffman says,
“Ordinary dog and cat owners should know that there is still much to explore about the impacts that pets have on their owner’s sleep quality (and vice versa!). While our data suggest that women commonly perceive their dogs to be better bed partners than cats or adult humans, some dogs may make terrible bed partners and some cats may positively contribute to their owner’s sleep. We need more information to sort out the situations under which a pet in the bed may enhance an individual’s sleep quality and the situations under which it detracts from sleep quality.  
I hypothesize that findings from follow-up studies may be a bit mixed. That is, I anticipate we will find that pets may facilitate relaxation, which may be particularly beneficial for individuals who tend to feel they are vulnerable when they sleep; however, pets may also be associated with some night time disturbances, so of which we might not even recall the next morning.”

962 American women took part in the research. The vast majority of participants had a pet, and just over half lived in New York State. They completed a validated questionnaire about sleep quality (the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index) and questions about how they perceived their sleep had been affected by human, cat and dog bed partners in the last month.

57% of participants had a human sleeping partner, 55% shared their bed with a dog (or dogs) and 31% with a cat (or cats).

When women let their pet sleep on the bed, responses varied as to whether they slept better, worse, or no different if the pet slept in contact with them. Amongst the dog owners, a majority thought their dog spent at least 75% of the night on the bed, but responses for cats were more spread out and suggest cats spend less time on the bed than dogs.

Many participants had deficits in sleep quality, but the rates were the same for pet owners and non pet owners.

In case you are wondering, men were welcome to take part in the research but very few chose to do so, which is why these results focus on women. Researchers often find men are less likely to take part in research than women. Earlier studies have found women report sleeping less well than men, so this is an interesting topic for research.

These results are fascinating but raise many questions about co-sleeping with pets. The extent of disruption at night as well as feelings of comfort and security are all important. Women with a pet (dog, cat, or both) in the bed report higher levels of comfort and security than those without a pet in the bed.

People’s self-reports about sleep quality may not be entirely accurate, as some disturbances may not be remembered in the morning. The scientists are already investigating how to use accelerometers to assess how much time dogs spend resting or active.

Dr. Marc Bekoff did a great interview with Dr. Christy Hoffman about this research. If you want to learn more, check it out at Psychology Today. You can follow Dr. Hoffman's research via the Canisius Canines Facebook page.

Does your pet sleep on the bed, and if so, how do you think your sleep is affected?

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Reference
Hoffman, C. L., Stutz, K., & Vasilopoulos, T. (2018). An Examination of Adult Women’s Sleep Quality and Sleep Routines in Relation to Pet Ownership and Bedsharing. Anthrozoƶs, 31(6), 711-725. https://doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2018.1529354

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02 December 2018

Companion Animal Psychology Book Club December 2018

“A masterful account of the way science is revealing just how smart dogs can be."

The Companion Animal Psychology Book Club choice for December 2018 is The Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods


“A masterful account of the way science is revealing just how smart dogs can be. Fascinating and highly readable.”--John Bradshaw.

The Companion Animal Psychology Book Club choice for December 2018 is The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods.

From the inside cover,
""My dog can do that." 
So said a young Brian Hare to his professor who was studying animal behavior - and a revolution in our scientific understanding of dog intelligence began. Specifically, Brian Hare's dog, Oreo, could read human gestures that monkeys were blind to. The years of research that followed took Hare around the world and changed forever what we know of how dogs think and what they understand. This book is the masterfully told story of t his revolution and the new riches it brings to our relationship with dogs. 
We have learned more about how dogs think in the last decade than we have over the last century. Brian Hare, now director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center at Duke University, pioneered research that has proven dogs have a kind of genius for getting along with people that is unique in the animal  kingdom. His seminal work has acquainted him with every kind of dog from the tiniest shelter puppy to the exotic New Guinea Singing Dog.  
The dog genius revolution is transforming how we live and work with our canine friends, including how we train them. Does your dog feel guilt? Is she pretending she can't hear you? Does she want affection--or your sandwich? In The Genius of Dogs, Brian Hare and award-winning journalist and author Vanessa Woods lay out what the new cognitive science means for you in your daily life with your dog."


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