17 March 2019

Companion Animal Psychology News March 2019

Animal cruelty investigations, cat music, dog parks, and interviews with dogs...the latest Companion Animal Psychology news.

Companion Animal Psychology Newsletter March 2019

Favourites from around the web this month:

If you’ve ever tried to get a wriggly puppy into a harness, this post is for you. Gearing up: How to harness your dog or puppy by Joan Grassbaugh Forry CTC.

“The one symptom I cannot ignore, however, is my dog’s tiny head, resting on my leg during a portion of the day when she’s usually ignoring me.” How your dog knows when you’re sick, by Amanda Mull.

"When you’re training a dog using a good plan and good treats, the dog is so keen to work it feels almost criminal." Kristi Benson CTC ponders the question, is training your dog unnatural?

“I have been leading a team studying animal cruelty investigation work and workers for the last few years. It is difficult research, to put it mildly.” Preventing animal cruelty is physically and emotionally risky for front-line animal workers by Dr. Kendra Coulter.

Should self-driving cars spare people over pets? Prof. Hal Herzog on the results of the Moral Machine experiment.

“In Chicago and other cities, the demand for pet-friendly public space has boomed. But many communities see off-leash parks as heralds of gentrification." Kriston Capps asks, are dog parks exclusionary?

And while we’re on the subject of dog parks, if you want one, you want it done right. “But what I really want in a dog park is good people.” My dream dog park by Tim Steele CTC. Don't forget to leave a comment to say what's on your list.

“Their lovely ears are not only are used to hear what's happening around them, but also to send various messages to other dogs and to humans.” How dogs hear and speak with the world around them by Dr. Marc Bekoff looks at dogs ears and at the communicative noises dogs make.

Cat music: “its distinguishing factors perhaps not so much the quality of the tunes, but the sounds created for their similarities to purring and other sounds that cats might find attractive (like squeaking noises and suckling sounds)." Dr. Mikel Delgado looks at a new study in can music make cats less stressed out?

The Animal Training Academy interviewed Jean Donaldson of The Academy for Dog Trainers about how she got into dog training, the problem of burnout, and fear of dogs.

Sound bites: Dogs on the microphone. A great set of photos at The Atlantic of dogs (including famous ones) being interviewed by the media. Put together by Alan Taylor.

Photos from behind the scenes at North America’s truffle dog competition. By Helen Carefoot with photos by David Williams.

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Animal Book Club

This month, the Companion Animal Psychology Book Club is reading Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw.

Cat Sense, this  month's choice for the Companion Animal Psychology book club

It’s a fascinating account of the evolutionary history, biology, and behaviour of domestic cats.

You can find a list of all the books in my Amazon store: https://www.amazon.com/shop/animalbookclub

Here at Companion Animal Psychology

I’m quoted in this post by Marc Bekoff for Psychology Today on why some dogs like to be touched but others don’t.

I share a few tips on senior dogs in this Bustle article, 11 ways to take care of your dog as it gets older.

I’m quoted in this piece in by Linda Lombardi in National Geographic, about some new research on the personality traits of dogs and their owners. I also wrote about this study here on Companion Animal Psychology:  Dogs’ personality traits vary with age (and dogs tend to be like their owners).

I have a piece on cognitive aging in dogs in the Spring 2019 edition of West Coast Veterinarian.

This month I published Kristi Benson’s thoughtful reflections on the ways in which dog training is like fiction. If you like fiction, or dog training, you’ll enjoy the read. It's a beautifully written piece. Into the middle of things: dog training lessons from the best fiction.

I wrote about a study on the effects of training cats to use their carrier when it comes to vet visits. Spoiler alert: cat carrier training helps! Cats trained to use their carriers find vet visits less stressful.

And I also wrote about the differences in lifespan between dogs of normal weight and those that are overweight. I was surprised at how large the difference is for some breeds; it’s sobering reading.

Most of all this month I've been busy working on copy edits for my book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. I can't wait to share more about it with you. Wag will be published in February 2020.

Pets in Art

This month’s picture is an illustration called Useful Domestic Dogs, which is in the Wellcome Collection. It shows a cur or cattle dog, a bull or beast dog, a rough water dog, a Mastiff or guard dog, a Dalmatian or coach dog, a shepherds dog, a Newfoundland or house dog, and a Terrier or vermin dog.

Useful Domestic Dogs, this month's Pets in Art in the Companion Animal Psychology newsletter for March 2019
Image credit: Wellcome Collection

The etching with watercolour is by Thomas Kelly of London, and the Wellcome Collection does not give a date for it. However, I found an old listing on eBay that says it is from Buffon’s Natural History, published in London in 1860.

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13 March 2019

Dogs' Personality Traits Vary With Age (and Dogs Tend to Be Like Their Owners)

Dogs are most trainable during middle age, and there are some fascinating links between the personality of dogs and their owners, research shows.

Dog's personality traits vary with age, and there are links between the personality of dogs and of their owners..
Photo: dezy/Shutterstock

Do you ever think much about the different personalities of dogs? New research looks at the personality profiles of dogs (and their owners) and finds that dog personality seems to change with age.

As well, the owner’s personality is linked to the dog’s personality. The study, by Dr. William Chopik and Dr. Jonathan Weaver (both Michigan State University) is published in Journal of Research and Personality.

The results show that some personality traits are more pronounced in dogs in middle age (6-8 years).

This was the case for responsiveness to training, which peaked at age 7.44. Younger dogs were rated as less responsive to training, and older dogs were not much different from middle-aged ones. As well, dogs scored higher on this trait if they were trained by their owners.

Aggression towards people was lower in young dogs, but peaked between 6 and 7 years (age 6.69) and then remained steady. Aggression towards people was lower in female dogs, dogs that had been spayed/neutered, and purebred dogs.

Older dogs are less aggressive towards other animals. Aggression towards other animals peaked between 7 and 8 years (age 7.74) and then began to decline with increasing age. This trait was lowest amongst dogs that had been spayed/neutered and that are purebred.

As you might expect, young dogs tended to be more active and excitable. Dogs who had been to obedience class and/or were trained by their owner were more likely to be active and excitable.

There was no effect of age on fearfulness, which could affect dogs of any age. Dogs that had been to obedience class, were spayed/neutered, and were purebred, were less likely to be fearful.

Not surprisingly, when the researchers looked at whether or not the dogs had bitten a person, this was more likely in dogs that were rated as aggressive towards people. It was more likely in dogs that had been trained by the owner, which may be surprising but perhaps means the owner tried to train the dog following the bite (this is not clear from the data). Older dogs and male dogs were also more likely to have bitten someone.

The results for aggression are interesting because earlier research has shown that aggression towards people and aggression towards animals are distinct. In other words, a dog that is aggressive towards other dogs is not necessarily aggressive towards people and vice versa. The new study did not distinguish between aggression towards family members and aggression towards strangers.

As well, the finding that some personality traits vary with age is in line with a previous study that suggests there is a developmental onset to some behaviour problems in dogs, at least in Guide dogs.

The new study also compared the personality traits of owners with the personality traits of the dogs. Of course the Big 5 personality traits for people do not exactly correspond with the five personality traits for dogs. However, there were some similarities.

The scientists write,
“Some of the most intriguing results found were instances of personality “compatibility” between owners and their dogs. For example, extraverts rated their dogs as more active/excitable; conscientious owners rated their dogs as more responsive to training; agreeable owners rated their dogs as less aggressive; neurotic owners rated their dogs as more fearful.”

Earlier research has also found a link between the personality of dogs and of their owners. One study published last year had broadly similar results for personality; it also found that choice of dog training methods does not mediate the link between dog and owner personality, but that there is a link between depression in men and the likelihood of using aversive methods.

Finally, the scientists found that reports of a better quality relationship were linked to people who scored highly on agreeableness, and also higher for women than for men. Canine characteristics associated with a better relationship quality were being more responsive to training, more active and excitable, and also if the dog was older.

As with other such research, this new study is just a snapshot in time and so it does not tell us whether people are choosing dogs with personalities similar to theirs, or if, by sharing their lives together, dogs become more like their people.

1,681 people completed a questionnaire that included the Big 5 personality questionnaire for themselves as well as ratings of their dog’s personality. As well, they were asked about the dog’s health, whether the dog had ever bitten someone, and their relationship with the dog.

Dogs aged 1.5 weeks to 16 years were included in the study, and about half of them were purebred.

The results of this study are fascinating, and it would be nice to see some longitudinal research to follow this up.

The scientists write that in future, they would be interested to look at how different training experiences affect canine personality traits.

What kind of personality does your dog have?

If you love Companion Animal Psychology, subscribe by email, support me on Ko-fi, or check out my Amazon store.

Chopik, W. J., & Weaver, J. R. (2019). Old dog, new tricks: Age differences in dog personality traits, associations with human personality traits, and links to important outcomes. Journal of Research in Personality, 79:94-108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2019.01.005

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10 March 2019

The 2019 BC SPCA Animal Behaviour Science Symposium

The BC SPCA Animal Behaviour Science Symposium takes place 7-10 June 2019.

The BC SPCA Animal Behaviour Science Symposium 7-10 June 2019

The keynote speaker is Jean Donaldson of The Academy for Dog Trainers.

Other speakers include Dr. Chris Pachel, Debbie Martin, Dr. Claudia Richter, Kim Monteith, Dr. Karen van Haaften, Sarah Pennington, Renée Erdman, Lisbeth Plant, and myself.

As well, there is a learning lab on humane handling and cooperative veterinary care.

Full details are available on the Animal Behaviour Science Symposium website.

Maybe I'll see you there?

06 March 2019

Overweight Dogs Don't Live as Long, and Scientists Have Calculated How Much Less

Research on 12 popular dog breeds finds the average difference in life span between normal weight and overweight or obese dogs, and it makes for worrying reading.

Overweight dogs have shorter lives, and scientists have calculated by how much. The effects are worse for small dogs like the Yorkshire Terrier, pictured, showing the importance of keeping your dog to a normal weight. If in doubt, as your vet.
Photo: Caz Harris Photography/Shutterstock

We know that being overweight or obese is bad for pet dogs, but just how bad is it?

For the first time, scientists have worked out the difference in average life span for normal weight and overweight pet dogs of 12 breeds. The study by Carina Salt (WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition) et al. is published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

The scientists looked at some of the most popular breeds of all sizes, from Chihuahuas and Pomeranians to Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds.

The study only looked at dogs that have been spayed or neutered.

Co-author Prof. Alex German (University of Liverpool) told Science  Daily,
"Owners are often unaware that their dog is overweight, and many may not realise the impact that it can have on health. What they may not know is that, if their beloved pet is too heavy, they are more likely to suffer from other problems such as joint disease, breathing issues, and certain types of cancer, as well as having a poorer quality of life. These health and wellbeing issues can significantly impact how long they live."

The biggest differences in life span were found for little dogs. For a normal-weight male Yorkshire Terrier, the average life span is 16.2. However, if the dog is overweight, the average life span is 13.7 – a reduction of 2 and a half years. This was the largest difference found.

Big dogs had a smaller difference, but still had a reduced lifespan if they were overweight. A normal-weight male German Shepherd lives for 12.5 years, whereas his overweight counterpart only lives 12.1 years on average. This was the smallest difference found in the study.

"Most pet owners feel that dogs’ lives are too short as it is. This data shows how serious the effect of being overweight is on dogs"

The corresponding figures for female German Shepherds are 13.1 and 12.5 years, respectively, while for female Yorkshire Terriers the average lifespan is 15.5 if normal weight and 13.5 if overweight.

Amongst medium size dogs, a male Beagle of normal weight lives 15.2 years and his overweight counterpart lives only 13.2 years. For female Beagles, those of normal weight have a life span of 15.3 compared to 13.3 for those who are overweight.

The breeds included in the study were the Yorkshire Terrier, Pomeranian, Chihuahua, Shih Tzu, American Cocker Spaniel, Dachshund, Beagle, Pit Bull, Boxer, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever and German Shepherd.

The results are shown in the table below.

The life span of overweight dogs compared to normal weight dogs for 12 breeds. The effects of being overweight are worse for small dogs than large dogs.
Average life span for normal and overweight dogs. Reproduced from Salt et al (2019) under Creative Commons licence.

The researchers looked at anonymized data from BANFIELD Pet Hospitals (almost all in the US) from 1994 to 2015. Normal weight and overweight dogs of the 12 breeds in the study were matched at around age 7.5 for the purposes of analysis.

The dog’s weight was assessed by a 5-point Body Condition Score from 2010, and on a 3-point scale before then. In the analysis, dogs were classified as either underweight, overweight, or a normal weight.

The study included data from over 50,000 dogs. Although only 12 popular breeds were considered, it seems likely that the results would also apply to other breeds.

Overweight dogs have a shorter life span, and this post shows how much shorter for 12 popular dog breeds. Photo shows a spaniel in the trunk of a car after a walk.
Photo: Josh Powell/Shutterstock

This research cannot explain why overweight dogs tend to have a shorter life. As well, we have to remember that dogs typically don’t have a natural death but are often euthanized due to quality of life issues, and treatment costs may play a role in that if people are unable to afford treatment.

The study data covers a long time period, and there have been medical advances in this time.

Nonetheless, the results show that if your dog is overweight, it would be wise to do something about it.

Many owners find it difficult to judge if their dog is a normal weight or not, and it is also easy to be in denial about this. If you are not sure, ask your veterinarian. If your dog is overweight, speak to your vet about the best ways to get your dog down to a normal weight.

Research also shows that owners of overweight dogs need to change their own behaviour. Strategies that may be useful include setting specific goals for behaviours (such as how far you will walk the dog) and outcomes, as well as considering strategies to use to help you manage your dog’s food intake.

I think most pet owners feel that dogs’ lives are too short as it is. This data shows how serious the effect of being overweight is on dogs, and therefore how important it is to maintain your dog’s weight at a normal level.

The paper is open access (link below).

If you love Companion Animal Psychology, subscribe by email, support me on Ko-fi, or check out my Amazon store.

Salt, C., Morris, P. J., Wilson, D., Lund, E. M., & German, A. J. (2019). Association between life span and body condition in neutered client‐owned dogs. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 33(1), 89-99. https://doi.org/10.1111/jvim.15367

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02 March 2019

Companion Animal Psychology Book Club March 2019

"To live in harmony with our cats... we first need to understand their inherited quirks."

The Animal Book Club choice for March 2019 is Cat Sense by John Bradshaw

This month, the Companion Animal Psychology Book Club has chosen Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw.

From the back cover,

"In Cat Sense, renowned anthrozoologist John Bradshaw takes us further into the mind of the domestic cat than ever before, using cutting-edge scientific research to dispel lingering myths and explain the true nature of our feline friends. Tracing the cat's evolution from lone predator to domesticated companion, Bradshaw shows that although cats and humans have lived together for eight thousand years, cats remain independent, predatory, and wary of contact with their own kind, qualities that often clash with our modern lifestyles. To live in harmony with our cats, Bradshaw explains, we first need to understand their inherited quirks including understanding their body language, and managing both their natural hunting instincts and their relationships with other cats. A must-read for any cat lover, Cat Sense offers humane, penetrating insights about the domestic cat that challenge our most basic assumptions and promise to dramatically improve our pets' lives--and ours."

A full list of all the books can be found in my Amazon  store: https://www.amazon.com/shop/animalbookclub

Will you be reading too? Leave your comments on the book!

27 February 2019

Into the Middle of Things: Dog Training Lessons from the Best Fiction

Why dog trainers are like stalwart detectives, and how it all begins mid-scene.

Guest post by Kristi Benson CTC

What dog trainers can learn from the best fiction. Dog training begins 'in media res', in the middle of things. Illustrated by a Golden Retriever mid-play.
Photo: Anna Goroshnikova/Shutterstock

A while ago, a client got in touch asking for help with the family dog. The dog was a young and lovely Golden retriever, smart as a whip and sweet as pie. The problem? He was barking. A lot. As I packed up my bag of tricks, I grabbed a few different hand-outs to make sure I had all the usual suspects covered: boredom barking? Check. Fearful barking? Check. Guarding, alarm, attention, and play? Check, check, check. My bait bag and some treats followed the hand-outs into my bag and I was off to the races.

When a story  begins in the middle of some action, it’s called “in medias res”, which is a Latin term meaning "into the middle of things". Have you ever read a thriller that opens with the characters sitting around a table in a tense meeting of political hotshots? Or a murder mystery starting with a car chase, sirens whooping? The story starts part way in, and we, as the readers, must reconstruct what happened to get us to this place, either from the flashbacks that the author doles out, or from the story itself. It makes for some delicious reading, the fictional world opening up before us both forward and backward in time, with each turn of the page. Sometimes there are missing details that we only find out when the twisted threads of the plot are finally brought together, and sometimes there are red herrings that make us imagine we know what’s what, but are simple, or not-so-simple, redirection.

In some ways, this is a great metaphor for dog training. I’m not being arcane, I promise. A dog trainer almost always comes in part way through the story. But instead of a tense political meeting, it’s a dog who is tense around strangers, or fireworks, or at the dog park. Or maybe in the place of a car chase between the good guys and the bad guys, it’s a “dog actually chasing a car” scenario.

"As all of us who not-so-secretly enjoy formulaic fiction can tell you, there is nothing wrong with a formula that works."

When I arrived at my new client’s house, I found a dog who seemed a bit scared of me. He barked when I got in the door, his body lowered and tail tucked. I tossed him treats for a few minutes, over which he began to bark less and less. Once he had warmed to me and my treats, he acted towards me the same way he acted towards his own human family. He was waggling and climbing in my lap and all-round adorably happy. I asked the owners to let me know, in synopsis, all the contexts in which this dog barked. It quickly became clear that all of them had a single thing in common: new people.

Dog training lessons from the best fiction, illustrated by woman reading book with coffee and biscuits and white dog curled up
Photo: Monika Wisniewska/Shutterstock

Dog trainers get good at asking the right questions, or ‘taking history’, as we call it. Just like how an author hands out details to his readers to build a fictional backstory, our clients need to give us important details on the dog’s backstory. We’ll ask, “what causes your dog to react in this way?” We’ll ask, “what makes it better? What makes it worse?” If the dog is biting...how hard? Whom? If the dog is scared, when? A dog trainer will get the details that we need to make a diagnosis, and a plan. We’ll build the backstory, to the degree that it matters.

And that’s actually another way that fictional writing is allegorical to professional dog training: we focus on what matters. The books you read are not ten billion pages. The entire family tree of the main character back to revolutionary France is not included. You do not learn the name of their favourite childhood doll nor the brand of coffee they bought in 1987. You, curled up in an armchair with a mug of mocha and a rare evening all to yourself, learn just what you need to know to make the story work.

And so it is with dog trainers. Our clients have limited resources, and we have limited time with them. We winnow our questions to just the most relevant ones, in order to get the backstory that matters. (In fact, random and wandering, irrelevant questions may be a good indicator that a trainer is out of their league. Spending hours of your time collecting details about stuff that doesn’t relate to the behaviour issue or the training is a worrisome flag in an unregulated field. If in doubt, check for credentials).

Dog training lessons from the best fiction. Dog trainers need to know the dog's back story, just to the degree that it matters. Illustrated by mysterious photo of woman and dog on an island in the fog
Photo: audrey_l/Shutterstock

As a dog trainer works with a dog, new details about the dog’s behaviour invariably crop up. Each step in a training plan is like a page turned. We expect the dog to react to men with beards, but in fact, men with hats are more problematic. We expect the dog to jump on guests at the door, but in fact, the dog jumps up in the kitchen. Each detail is added to the dog’s story, and the training plan changes or not, as needed. A plot twist here, a new character there.

This isn’t to say that the training plan we use for most dogs isn’t somewhat formulaic. Many, many dogs share a diagnosis and treatment protocol, because all dogs are...well, dogs, and because issues crop up in relatively predictable spots. Issues reliably crop up when dogs are scared or worried, when dogs are ill, and when dogs are exuberantly joyful in a way that doesn’t fit with their human families. But as all of us who not-so-secretly enjoy formulaic fiction can tell you, there is nothing wrong with a formula that works. Helping dogs and their owners is our primary concern, not post-modern creativity.

"You, curled up in an armchair with a mug of mocha and a rare evening all to yourself, learn just what you need to know to make the story work."

Quite happily for dogs ’round the globe, just as we almost always get resolution in a good book (or at least, we do in the good books I read...see formulaic, above), we almost always get resolution with the dogs we train, too. The lovely young Golden got a standard protocol to reduce his fearfulness around new people, by preventing exposure outside of training, and using desensitization and counterconditioning to change his underlying emotional state when he did come across strangers. And quite predictably, when he was no longer feeling threatened, the fearful barking went away all by itself.

As dog trainers we hop into the middle of a dog’s story, in medias res: the problem started before we got there, and we land on two feet, right into the middle of it. We fill out the backstory by asking questions and by observing the dog for ourselves. And like the most stalwart detective, we work our way through the dog’s story as we train, getting new information from how they respond to the training we propose. Finally, we reach the end of the book: the problem has resolved, or the owner is ready to take the pencil into their own hands and finish the story themselves. Another client, and another story, awaits.

Also by Kristi Benson:
Did we evolve to love dogs?
Digging into our common ground with dogs

About Kristi Benson CTC

Kristi Benson on dog training lessons from the best fiction. Photo shows Kristi Benson outside with dogs

Kristi Benson is an honours graduate of the prestigious Academy for Dog Trainers, where she earned her Certificate in Training and Counseling (CTC).  She lives and works in the Parkland Region of central Manitoba Canada, where she teaches dog obedience classes and helps dog owners in private consultations – both in-person and via video chat – for a full range of dog problems, from basic obedience to aggressive behaviour. Kristi is on staff at the Academy for Dog Trainers, helping to shape the next generation of canine professionals. Kristi’s dogs are rescue sled dogs, and for fun she runs them with a dog-powered scooter and on skis.

Contact her through her website and check out her blog, Facebook page, or Twitter for training tips, articles about dogs and training, and more.

Read more guest posts at Companion Animal Psychology or check out our guest post guidelines.
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20 February 2019

Cats Trained to Use Their Carriers Find Vet Visits Less Stressful

Training cats to go in their carrier and for a short car ride leads to less stressful visits to the vet, study shows.

Training cats to go in their carrier and for a short car ride leads to less stressful visits to the vet, according to science. Photo shows a British grey cat in their carrier

When it’s time for cats to go to the vet, many owners struggle. It can be almost impossible to get the cat in the carrier (or even locate them if they flee at the sight of it). And this stress is a bad start to a vet visit that will likely be stressful in itself.

But research by Dr. Lydia Pratsch and colleagues at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna shows there is something that can be done: Train the cat to use their carrier.

In a blinded, randomized controlled trial, 11 cats were trained to use the cat carrier, while 11 cats were in a control group that was not trained. All 22 cats had a mock visit to the vet. The results showed cat carrier training reduces stress.

The scientists write,
“Training proved to be effective in reducing stress during the car ride and led to a shorter veterinary examination. Owners should be encouraged and instructed to carrier train their cats to reduce stress around veterinary visits.”

The cats live at the University of Vienna and a realistic pretend veterinary clinic (complete with the smells of disinfectant and other animals) was set up for the purposes of the study. One of the researchers acted as the owner of the cat, while another was the driver and vet.

Each cat had 28 training sessions which (on average) lasted 8 mins each and involved the cat getting 4 treats a minute. A range of treats were used as positive reinforcement depending on the cat’s taste, including tuna, meat sticks, and various cat biscuits.

The training plan had seven stages, starting from teaching the cat to go into the bottom part of the carrier and building up to going in the carrier for a very short car ride of 50-90 seconds.

Each cat progressed from one stage of training to the next if they had achieved the goal of that stage or if they had had 6 training sessions.

Only three of the cats completed the training. Six cats reached the seventh stage but did not complete it, and two cats reached the sixth stage but did not complete it.

Vet visits are less stressful for the cat if they have been trained to go in their carrier and for a short car ride before hand, according to research. Photo shows African-American woman vet holding a cat.
Photo: Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock

Before and after the training period, all cats (both control and training group) had a mock visit to the vet. This started with the cat being put into their carrier and being fed treats during a 10-minute car ride (unless they kept not eating them, in which case treat delivery stopped). Then the cat had a vet exam that included checking the eyes and ears, listening to the heart and lungs, and taking the temperature rectally.

Rectal temperature-taking was the part of the exam cats appeared to dislike the most, and was the only reason why some cats in the study had to have their vet exam stop early.

Video of the cats in the basket, in the mock waiting room, and during the exam was analysed for signs of stress or relaxation. The scientists then calculated differences between the two visits.

The scientists looked at Cat Stress Scores (scores on a standardized scale), behaviour during the car ride, and how well the cat complied with getting in the carrier and being examined at the mock veterinary clinic. As well, they took the cat’s ear temperature, and looked for signs of stress like vomiting, urination, and how fast the cat was breathing.

The cats who took part in the training showed fewer signs of stress than the cats in the control group. Cats who had had the training did not hide or pant in the car ride.

During the first vet visit, the majority of cats in both groups did not eat during the car ride. However, at the second visit, eight cats in the training group ate compared to four in the control group.

The scientists took care to use a style of cat carrier that is especially suitable because, as well as the opening at the front, it has a hole in the top which cats can go through. As well, the top and the base of the carrier can be separated, which means the top can simply be removed for the exam.

Training cats to use their carrier makes them less stressed during vet exams, science shows. Look for a carrier with a hole in the top, like this one, and which lets you remove the top (the base can be a safe place)
Cat carrier with an opening in the top. Photo: Monkey Business Images

During the vet exam, most cats went to the bottom of the carrier, suggesting that this was a ‘safe’ place for them. The scientists say,
“Our findings should encourage veterinary personnel to work “slowly” with cats and to provide them with a safe place to retreat.”

Cats in the training group had to move on to the next stage of training at a set point, even if they had not completed that stage. This means they might have been fearful during later stages of training. This is recognized at stage 7, where the cat was either rewarded for good behaviour or counter-conditioned with food. (See more on desensitization and counter-conditioning).

It seems likely that a more individualized training plan that allowed the cat to complete a stage before moving on to the next would be even more effective. This would be nice to see in future research.

It would also be nice to see research on how best to teach owners to train their cats to like the carrier, as no doubt many owners have tried and not succeeded.

If you would like to train your cat to use their carrier, there is a set of videos by Dr. Sarah Ellis (co-author of The Trainable Cat).

As well, I have a blog post with links to resources for less stressful vet visits for cats and dogs.

You might also like: Enrichment tips for cats (that many people miss) and the best way to train cats is with food.

Subscribe to Companion Animal Psychology to learn more about how to have happy dogs and happy cats.

Pratsch, L., Mohr, N., Palme, R., Rost, J., Troxler, J., & Arhant, C. (2018). Carrier training cats reduces stress on transport to a veterinary practice. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 206, 64-74. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2018.05.025

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17 February 2019

Companion Animal Psychology News February 2019

Dog training standards, the puppy brain, and the crow that called for food… the latest Companion Animal Psychology news.

The latest science news about dogs and other animals from Companion Animal Psychology

Favourites from around the web this month

These are my favourite articles, photos and podcasts about animals this month. As usual, I've included links to people's Twitter accounts so you can easily follow them.

"A new training program from Canada's BC SPCA is a model for all to follow.” At Psychology TodayDr. Marc Bekoff interviews Dr. Karen van Haaften and Dr. Sara Dubois of the BC SPCA about their new AnimalKind accreditation scheme for dog trainers in BC.

In very cold temperatures, does dog urine do what boiling water does? Find out in, What happens when it’s 30 below and the dog’s gotta go? By Karin Brulliard at The Washington Post.

“The puppy brain still has a lot of developing to do after birth, and understanding that process is important to raising confident, well-adjusted dogs.” Fear, stress, and puppy brain development: what to know by Linda Lombardi at Fear Free Happy Homes.

“Like many breakthroughs in science, Dmitri Belyaev’s silver fox domestication experiment began with a thunderbolt: one simple, powerful, new idea.” The foxes that came in from the cold by Dr. Lee Dugatkin at Undark.

“In discussing breed-associated disorders, veterinarians may appear to be critical of the very features that clients find most endearing about their companion animals” Vets can do more to reduce the suffering of flat-faced dog breeds by Prof. Paul McGreevy and Dr. Anne Fawcett at The Conversation.

 “For many scientists, the resonant mystery is no longer which animals are conscious, but which are not.” Scientists are totally re-thinking animal cognition by Ross Andersen looks at the conscious experience of crows, fish, and wasps for The Atlantic.

“Now that cannabis has been legalized, Canadians don’t have to hide their stash. But dog owners need to be aware of the dangers that cannabis can pose to their pooches.” Cannabis is not a dog’s best friend by Dr. Ainslie Butler at Science Borealis.

“They have the right to go be themselves and piss around town and sniff ass where they please.  People saying their pets are their family but keeping them in a yard is somewhat funny to me.” The rez dogs are alright by Abby Hartman.

“So if both the “getting cheese” and the “getting shocked” type of consequences work to change behaviour, and both are sadly still legal, how is a dog owner (or a dog rescue) to tell if a dog trainer uses one style or the other, or both?” Philosophy matters in dog training by Kristi Benson.

Cat ladders: a creative solution for felines in flats [apartments]. The Guardian has photos of some of the cat ladders in Bern, Switzerland.

Inside the mind of a dog. In this podcast, Aspen Ideas to Go speaks to Dr. Alexandra Horowitz and Dr. Brian Hare about what dogs know, understand, and believe.

Animal Book Club

This month, the Companion Animal Psychology Book Club is reading Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz.

The Animal Book Club is reading Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz in February 2019

This book, “causes one’s dog-loving heart to flutter with astonishment and gratitude,” according to a review in the New York Times.

You can find a list of all the books we've read on the book club page or in my Amazon store: https://www.amazon.com/shop/animalbookclub

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Companion Animal Psychology brings you science news and evidence-based information about dogs and cats, since 2012.

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I’d like to say a special thank you to the anonymous donors who have supported me this month. You are awesome!

Here at Companion Animal Psychology

So far it has been a cold and snowy month for this part of the world. Here is Bodger enjoying the first of what turned out to be many snowy days.

Companion Animal Psychology News 2019, the latest science news about dogs and other animals. Photo shows my Australian Shepherd in the snow
Photo copyright Zazie Todd

This month. Renée Erdman interviewed me about my article on barriers to the adoption of humane dog training methods for her Bravo Dog Knowledge podcast.

I was interviewed for this piece on should you ignore your dog when leaving the house? by  Linda Lombardi at Fear Free Happy Homes.

My post on the best cat scratching posts (from a cat’s point of view) is quoted by Allison Hunter-Frederick in Lincoln Pet Culture’s how to keep your cat from destructive scratching.

Over at Psychology Today, I wrote about Dr. Taryn Graham’s research on the important of dogs for millennials who rent (and the corresponding challenges), in millennials pet dogs: an anchor to an adult world. This post was included in the latest Science Borealis newsletter.

Here at Companion Animal Psychology, a post about the benefits of nosework for dogs, finding hidden food in nosework increases dogs’ optimism, has proved very popular. Dr. Marc Bekoff also wrote about this research (and linked back to my post) in allowing dogs to sniff helps them think positively.

New study identifies our different ethical beliefs about animals looks at some research that finds four main ways that people think about how it is ethical to use animals, and some surprising ways they link to our behaviour. And if you want to follow up on this, Dr. Marc Bekoff interviewed the scientists who did the research.

America’s changing relationship with the pet dog looks at how dogs have moved from being allowed to roam the streets to sleeping in their owners beds, with corresponding changes in the proportion of dogs that are re-homed or euthanized at animal shelters.

And I took part in the 2019 pet blogger challenge which is a chance for pet bloggers to reflect on their blog and where it is going.

Pets in Art

In last month’s newsletter I shared with you a drawing of a cat by Isoda Koryusai. So I thought this month you would like to see this drawing of a dog by the same artist.

Black Dog by Isoda Koryusai, this month's pet in art in the Companion Animal Psychology newsletter, with the latest science news about dogs, cats and other animals
Black Dog by Isoda Koryusai. Part of the Art Institute of Chicago collection.

It is called Black Dog and dates from 1767-1785.

It is from the Art Institute of Chicago collection and in the public domain.

13 February 2019

Breed Specific Legislation Had No Effect on Dog Bites in Odense, Denmark

In 2010, Denmark banned 13 breeds of dog. It made no difference to hospitalizations for dog bites.

Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) made no difference to dog bite injuries in Odense, Denmark. One of the banned breeds was the American Staffordshire Terrier, like this happy AmStaff pictured.
Photo: sanjagrujic/Shutterstock

One approach that some countries or municipalities take to attempt to reduce injuries from dog bites is to ban certain breeds, known as Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). A new study by Dr. Finn Nilson  (Karlstad University) et al investigates the effects of BSL in Denmark’s third-largest city, Odense. The results show that it had no effect on hospitalizations for dog bites.

In 2010, Denmark banned the ownership, breeding and import of 13 breeds of dog, including the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasiliero and American Bulldog.

Two of those breeds, the Pitbull Terrier and the Tosa Inu, had to be euthanized.

Any existing pets of the remaining 11 breeds could be kept, but they had to be muzzled and leashed in public.

Dr. Finn Nilson told me in an email,
“The findings in our article largely support previous studies on the subject of whether banning certain breeds of dog will lead to less individuals requiring emergency care for dog bites. In similarity to other studies we can show that banning certain breeds in Denmark did not reduce the number of dog bites being seen at a large regional hospital. Due to the Danish ban being slightly different to previous bans, we could use considerably more advanced methods. Put simply, we could test both the long-term effect of banning certain breeds as well as the short-term legislation on muzzles in public spaces on the same breeds. Neither seem to have an effect. The results reiterate the problem of identifying so-called dangerous breeds in the attempts to reduce dog bites.”

The study looked at data on people visiting the emergency department in Odense from 1st January 2002 and 31st June 2015. During this time, there were 2622 dog bite injuries.

There are some problems with simply looking at the number of dog bites before and after a ban. For one thing, in cases like this where some breeds are euthanized, the total number of dogs has gone down, which means any change could simply be because there are fewer dogs overall.

As well, it is possible there would be other changes over the time period. One such change mentioned in the paper is that the number of injuries tends to go down anyway (although I note that this is not always the case – in the UK, which also has BSL, hospitalizations for dog bites have gone up).

The scientists used some sophisticated statistical techniques, called Monte Carlo models, to get round these issues.

And they paid attention to whether dog bites happened in public or private spaces.

Breed Specific Legislation did not effect dog bite injuries in Odense. 13 breeds were banned, including the American Staffordshire Terrier. An AmStaff puppy is  pictured.
Photo: Grigorita Ko/Shutterstock

Since 11 of the banned breeds had to be muzzled and leashed in public, you would expect an immediate difference in public dog bites if BSL was effective. Whereas you would expect a more gradual difference in dog bites in private spaces as the number of pet dogs of these breeds slowly went down.

But that’s not what happened.

The results showed no effect of Breed Specific Legislation on hospitalizations for dog bites.

They did show something else very interesting: Of the 2622 dog bites, 874 occurred in public spaces. In other words, the majority of dog bite injuries (67%) occurred in a private space such as someone’s home.

This shows that programs to reduce dog bites need to target private places, not just focus on what happens in public.

"Put simply, we could test both the long-term effect of banning certain breeds as well as the short-term legislation on muzzles in public spaces on the same breeds. Neither seem to have an effect."

One limitation to the research is that it only considers data for 4.5 years after the introduction of BSL. However, the legislation would have been expected to have an effect in this time, which was not found.

This study joins a number of others in finding that Breed Specific Legislation does not work. If you want to know more, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a summary of the available research on BSL.

Unfortunately BSL means that well-behaved dogs have to be muzzled or euthanized when they have not done anything wrong.

The alternative to BSL is to encourage responsible dog ownership and enforce it with strong laws or bylaws.

Dog bites are a complex problem, and this study adds to the evidence that breed specific legislation is not the solution. As well, it shows that we need to pay attention to the context in which bites occur.

The paper is open access and you can read it via the link below.

You might also like: Stereotypes and breeds of dog and the effects of owner experience and housing on Argentine Dogos.

Nilson, F., Damsager, J., Lauritsen, J., & Bonander, C. (2018). The effect of breed-specific dog legislation on hospital treated dog bites in Odense, Denmark—A time series intervention study. PLoS one, 13(12), e0208393. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0208393

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07 February 2019

New Study Identifies our Different Ethical Beliefs about Animals

New research finds four ethical orientations towards animals, and some surprising links to cat and dog ownership and to other behaviours such as eating “welfare-friendly” meat.

There are four animal ethics orientations, including anthropocentrism and animal rights, according to  new study. Photo shows collage of dog, fox, horse and cat

We all have different views about what we think are ethical ways to treat animals. New research by Dr. Thomas Bøker Lund et al. (University of Copenhagen), published today in PLOS ONE, finds four different ethical orientations that are commonly held by the general public.

The results show just how complicated our ethical beliefs about animals are – and include some surprising results.

Two of the different orientations will probably be familiar:

Anthropocentrism – the idea that “human beings matter most”. This view may stem from religious beliefs or from beliefs that humans and animals are different, with humans being considered rational and more important than non-human animals.

Animal rights – this approach values all animals and argues that as sentient beings, animals also have rights and should be treated accordingly. This is the opposite view to anthropocentrism.

The other two ethical orientations are not academic but more likely reflect the views of ordinary people:

Animal protection – this means animals are seen as needing protection, but may be used so long as they are treated humanely and do not suffer. This view can be seen in regulations to protect the welfare of farmed animals, for example.

Lay utilitarianism – the idea that animals can be used so long as the benefits to humans outweigh any suffering by the animals. For example, according to this approach, the use of animals in medical research (even if the animals suffer) is considered acceptable so long as there are benefits to people.

The scientists conducted a series of three studies. In the first, they developed a questionnaire to investigate these four approaches, and tested it on Danish university students. This confirmed the questionnaire worked the way they expected.

Then they tested it on three groups of people: ordinary Danes from a range of backgrounds; Danes who tend towards veganism or vegetarianism; and Danes who work in some way in the meat industry.

These results confirmed the results of the previous study, with the exception of one question that was removed (more on this later).

“It is a remarkable and ironic finding… that a stronger animal protection orientation does not make people more likely to consume animal welfare-friendly meat.”

Finally, they gave the questionnaire to a large sample of Danes along with some other questions about their behaviour towards animals, such as whether they own a dog or cat, and how often they visit the zoo. This sample was intended to be representative, and since it was in some ways but not others (like level of education) they used some sophisticated statistics for the analysis.

And here’s where it gets really interesting.

Dog owners are less likely to be anthropocentric in their views. Is this because anthropocentric people are less likely to get dogs, or is there something about having a dog that makes people be less anthropocentric? This is a question for future research.

Cat owners are less likely to have the animal protection or lay utilitarian views. Why are cat owners less likely to be in what could be considered the middle ground? This is puzzling, and the researchers do not have an explanation for it.

Another finding is that the results are in line with something called the “underdog” effect that has previously been found in an American study. Women and those with lower levels of education were more likely to value an animal rights approach. It has been suggested that members of groups with less power in society are more likely to sympathize with animals.

One surprising finding relates to eating “welfare-friendly” meat.

The scientists say,
“It is a remarkable and ironic finding… that a stronger animal protection orientation does not make people more likely to consume animal welfare-friendly meat.”

Since they had expected the opposite to be the case, they did a bit more analysis. It turns out the most important reason is a lack of concern about animal welfare. Feeling that existing laws were good enough, and so the extra protections of “welfare-friendly” meat weren’t needed, was also part of the reason.

As for the one question that turned out not to fit in the second study, it related to the statement, “It is acceptable for humans to put animals down if it is done painlessly.” This suggests that attitudes to this are separate from the four main orientations considered here.

"Dog owners are less likely to be anthropocentric in their views."

Psychologists have known for a long time that attitudes do not necessarily predict behaviour, and the new scale highlights these tensions when it comes to our treatment of non-human animals.

Prof. Peter Sandøe, one of the authors of the study, told me in an email,
“Based on three studies conducted in Denmark, the four orientations were successfully identified and although not exhaustive, they represent distinctive accounts of the ways that animals matter. At one end of the spectrum, the anthropocentric orientation stresses that humans are the centre of the moral universe. At the other end of the spectrum, the animal rights orientation claims that sentient animals are entitled to the same rights as humans. The animal protection orientation is interpreted as a mainstream sentiment emphasizing that the welfare of animals is important in its own right, and that animals must be treated humanely and without unnecessary suffering while lay utilitarianism offers a more cynical take on animal welfare: all forms of animal use are in principle acceptable as long as the human benefits outweigh the disadvantages for the animals involved.

We argue that the developed measure can help detect the ethical orientations that have an impact on various types of behaviours that include animals, thus drive a more nuanced understanding about the attitudinal sources and justifications of different forms of animal use.”

This is fascinating research that captures the complexity of people’s beliefs about ethics and animals. It will enable future studies to explore the reasons behind differences between what people believe in and what people actually do when it comes to their ethical beliefs about animals.

The full paper is open access and can be read at the link below. Update: Dr. Marc Bekoff has interviewed the authors of the study and it is well worth a read to find out what they think of the results, what it means for animal welfare, and how this research can be used in future.

Which of the four ethical orientations most closely reflects your own beliefs about the treatment of animals?

Lund, T.B., Kondrup, S.R., and Sandøe, P. (2019) A multidimensional measure of animal ethics orientation – Developed and applied to a representative sample of the Danish public, PLoS ONE, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0211656

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06 February 2019

Finding Hidden Food in Nosework Increases Dogs' Optimism

Opportunities to use the nose and make choices in nosework are good for dogs’ welfare.

For dogs, opportunities to use the nose and be autonomous in nosework are good for dogs' welfare.  Photo shows a grey Siberian Husky sniffing
Photo: KM-Photography/Shutterstock

We all know that dogs like to sniff. Is it possible that providing opportunities to find food in nosework can improve dogs’ wellbeing?

New scientific research by Dr. Charlotte Duranton (Ethodog) and Dr. Alexandra Horowitz (Barnard College) finds that dogs who participate in nose work have increased optimism compared to dogs that took part in heelwork instead.

Importantly, both activities involved perambulation, as well as food rewards as positive reinforcement. The difference is that in nosework the dog has the opportunity to use their nose and to exercise choice in what they are doing.

The study used a test of optimism – also known as cognitive bias – in which dogs were first trained that a bowl in one location would always contain food, whereas a bowl in another location never did. Then the test involved an empty bowl placed in an ambiguous location, equidistant from the other two places.

The idea is that the length of time taken to get to the bowl reflects the dog’s optimism that it would contain a piece of chicken.

20 adult dogs of various breeds took part in the study, including Australian Shepherds, Huskies, Cocker Spaniels, and other breeds/mixes.

Half of the dogs took part in a nosework activity with their owner, while the other half did heelwork.

The dogs took part in a group class with their owner (either nosework or heelwork), then the owner practised at home with them once a day for a week.  Then there was a second class, followed by a second week of practice at home.

Immediately before and after the two weeks of the activity, each dog took part in the cognitive bias training and test.

Each activity was structured so there was some development from the beginning to the end. For example, in the first heelwork class the dog was initially rewarded with a treat for taking two paces with the owner, building up to ten paces. In the second week, changes of direction were included.

Similarly, in the first nosework class, dogs began by finding a hide (i.e. treat) in a box, then in one of three boxes. When they found it, additional treats were added to the box. In the second week, boxes were put on chairs and/or further apart to make it more challenging.

Prior to the activities, there were no differences between the two groups of dogs in the cognitive bias test.

For dogs, the opportunities to use the nose and make choices in nosework are good for their welfare. Photo shows a dalmatian sniffing grass with a dusting of snow
Photo: Sergey Fatin/Shutterstock

At the end of the two weeks, the latency for dogs in the nosework group to reach the bowl was significantly shorter. However, for dogs in the heelwork group, it was no different than in the previous test.

These results suggest that dogs in the nosework group were more optimistic.

Dogs in both groups had the chance to earn food rewards, so why the difference?

One reason could be that in nosework, dogs have a lot of choice in what they are doing, because they can move around the room and the boxes as they wish. In doing so, they are problem-solving, and successful problem-solving makes dogs happy too.

Another reason could be because of the opportunities to use their nose. Smell is the most important sense for dogs, and it is important to provide environmental enrichment that gives animals opportunities to use the most important sense and express normal behaviours.

The scientists explain there are some other possible explanations, although they do not think they are likely. For example, the dogs that did nosework were trained to search with their nose (but remember, the food bowl was empty in the cognitive bias task).

I think another difference between the conditions is the manner of reward delivery – one reward per set of steps in heelwork versus several rewards at once on finding the box containing food in nosework. This is consistent with how these are normally taught. It is possible dogs preferred receiving a 'jackpot' like in the nosework. However, other research shows dogs don't run faster for increased quantity of food, so this is not a likely explanation.

This is a fascinating study and it's great that scientists are looking at what kinds of activities are good for dogs' welfare.

This research shows it is important to give our pet dogs choices, opportunities to make their own decisions, and chances to use their nose. Doing so is good for their welfare, which is likely why the nosework training led to better results than heelwork.

If you are interested in trying nosework with your dog, you can find a list of Certified Nose Work Instructors here. See five fun things to do to make your dog happy today and six ways to entertain your dog indoors for more enrichment ideas.

What opportunities do you give your dog to use their nose and make choices?

Duranton, C., & Horowitz, A. (2018). Let me sniff! Nosework induces positive judgment bias in pet dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2018.12.009

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