Reading Cats and Dogs: The Recording

Watch the recording of this popular event with Zazie Todd, Lili Chin, and Sassafras Lowrey in conversation with Kristi Benson.

Zazie Todd, Lili Chin, and Sassafras Lowrey hold up copies of their books, while Kristi Benson holds up her Special Correspondent notebook at Reading Cats and Dogs

By Zazie Todd PhD

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At the end of March, Reading Cats and Dogs: A Conversation with Lili Chin, Sassafras Lowrey, and Zazie Todd took place online. The event was organized to celebrate 10 years of Companion Animal Psychology blog.

The event was a phenomenal success. Almost 500 people registered to watch live and get access to the recording.

Now you can watch the recording too either below or on Youtube

Each author read from their book and was interviewed by Kristi Benson, our fantastic emcee. Then we took questions from the audience.

I read from my book Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy.

Sassafras Lowrey read from Chew This Journal: An Activity Book for You and Your Dog.

And Lili Chin read from Doggie Language: A Dog Lover’s Guide to Understanding Your Best Friend.

You can read some of the highlights below, but I recommend you watch the video in full. And please subscribe to my channel.

Highlights from Reading Cats and Dogs

Zazie Todd and Purr

K: Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy follows your award-winning book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. Tell me a little bit about Purr.

Z: Purr is designed to help people know what will make their cat happy and to understand the science behind those suggestions. Research actually shows that the number 1 issue facing pet cats is behaviour issues due to a poor home environment, and so many of us don’t have everything set up right for the cat in our home. So one of the things that you’ll find in Purr is a lot of information [about that]. Purr is about the science, what we know from feline science, but it’s also absolutely packed with practical tips. 

It takes you through from getting a kitten or adopting an adult cat right through to having a senior cat and helping them feel more comfortable, and to making those difficult decisions at the end of life. Every chapter ends with a set of tips and then right at the end of the book there’s a checklist for a happy cat that you can use to see what you’re already doing right, and should do more of, or if there’s anything new that you want to try to see if you can make your cat even happier. 

K: Wonderful. So in both Purr and Wag you write about how we can use science, and you just mentioned that even in your last answer, how we can use science to make cats and dogs happier. So why is science important for our pets?

Z: The thing is that over the last 15 years or so there’s been an explosion of research on canine science, and feline science is kind of following behind. There’s an increase in that, but it’s got a long way to catch up. But it is catching up, and so much of it is relevant to ordinary lives with cats, as in Wag with our dogs. 

One example of that is the research on reward-based training methods because there’s a huge body of research now that looks at the risks of using aversive methods. And it finds that if you’re using shock or prong collars or leash corrections, there are risks to your dog’s welfare which would be the risks of fear, anxiety, stress, aggression, a worse relationship with the guardian, and also they’re more likely to be pessimistic rather than optimistic. And I think we all get pets because we want to have a good relationship with them. And although for cats there’s less research on that, we also know that for cats there is a risk of damaging your relationship with your cat if you’re squirting them with a water bottle, for example. 

So that’s one example where it shows us that we need to train dogs and cats with positive reinforcement and it’s very effective. Most of the time that’s going to mean that we’re using little pieces of food to train the dog.

And just as another quick example, there’s an increasing amount of research on the importance of enrichment. We know that dogs who get taken for more walks are less likely to have behaviour issues, and we know that cats that get more playtime with their guardian, like with the wand toy, are less likely to have behaviour issues. And of course there’s some issues to unpack with how the research is done. But at the same time, we know that walks are good for dogs, and we know that playing with the wand toy is fun for you, and fun for your cat as well. So if we can all make more time to do those things with them, that is good for them.

Sassafras Lowrey and Chew This Journal

K: You’ll be reading from Chew This Journal. So lovely to have you hear. I managed to finish reading it yesterday and just loved it. I love how interactive it is. But you’ve written several other fantastic dog books, and I want to start by asking you about Tricks in the City for Daring Dogs and the Humans that Love Them. So this is a really fun book, with tons of different tricks in it. How did you go about making sure that the book was suitable for all dogs and all dog guardians?

S: Yeah, so Tricks in the City is a book that is filled with instructions for how to teach your dog all kinds of fun different tricks from very basic tricks to really advanced tricks. And when I was writing the book, I really wanted to focus on the diversity of tricks that are out there and thinking a lot about accessibility of different sorts of dogs. So as a trick evaluator with the American Kennel Club, and with do more with your dog, I’ve had the privilege of working with over 300 dogs and handler teams all over the world, of all different sizes. And that definitely informed me when I was writing the book, thinking about what are different tricks that different kinds of dogs can do, and thinking about calling that out in the book. And also including tricks that were super accessible. 

At the time I was writing the book it was also before my 2 senior dogs had passed and so, at the time, I had a pack of 3 dogs, which were about as diverse as you can get. I had a 17 year old Chihuahua mix. I had a – at the time – 2 year old Newfoundland, and I had a 10 year old former street dog cattle dog cross. So I was really thinking about everything, from toy breeds to giants, and everything in between. 

K: Fun. So one of your books is an experimental nonfiction book called With Me which Dogster magazine just called “perfect for dog lovers everywhere.” So With Me is about the joy of dog sports. Tell me about your approach to writing that book.

S: Yeah, so With Me is the second book then in kind of a really fun process that I’ve been thinking about that’s looking at dog sports and also really at its root, more than that, our relationship and our connection with dogs and putting that on the page in new and interesting ways. Outside of the dog world I’m probably best known as a fiction author but I really enjoy playing with creative form. And so, several years ago actually, while I was doing my Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, I was looking at a course map for a dog agility course and for rally obedience courses and what I saw on the page. Course maps are what handlers get before they do a competition run. It’s telling you where to go. And looking at that course map, what I saw was something that looked almost poetic and I was like, Oh my god, what if I use that form as a kind of framework for telling stories about what it is actually like to develop a training and working relationship with dogs through sports? 

So that’s what I was doing in With Me, and I was thinking about that actually. It was written during the early days of the pandemic and there were ways that dog sports were for me this balm to soothe myself and my dog in those times.

Lili Chin and Doggie Language

K: Your gorgeous book, Doggie Language, has been a huge success. Can you tell me about that book?

L: Okay, so Doggie Language is an illustrated gift book about dog body language. It was published in the end of 2020 and the way it happened was that I was approached by Summersdale publishers in the UK because they’d seen my doggie language poster starring my dog Boogie, and they wanted to turn that into a book. 

It’s really a gift book. It’s supposed to be an introduction to reading dog body language for the general public. So it is mostly illustration, there’s very little text. But it is a combination of like many years of me working as an illustrator for dog trainers and welfare groups and, you know, doing dog body language charts for like dog bite prevention programs and stress-free training. And, you know, to help people communicate better with their dog and understand what their dog might be feeling, so that they can prevent bad feelings or aversive experiences. 

So I’m really thrilled that it’s been so popular. It wasn’t intended to be an educational serious book, but it’s become really useful for a lot of people, so that makes me happy.

K: Absolutely. I love how you keep reminding us to look at the context and the whole dog, and then you sort of integrate that message right into your drawing. It’s really good that way.

L: Yeah, that was important to me, to make sure that I always tried to draw the whole dog as often as possible. 

K: So you are well known for your drawings of dogs, cats, hedgehogs, and other animals. How did you get into drawing dogs in the first place?

L: I had no idea I would be getting into drawing dogs when I first started this. My background is in animation, 2D animation which was drawing for cartoon shows on TV, on the internet, and movies. And I adopted my dog, Boogie, around 2007 and that was when I started getting into the pet portraits side of the business. And from pet portraits I moved into doing infographics and educational illustration for dog people, because Boogie my dog bit somebody and had aggression issues. And then I had to learn about dog behaviour and dog training myself, which kind of took me on this journey about dog behaviour. And I became obsessed learning about it, and saw the difference it made to my relationship with Boogie, which led to posters and infographics and work in that area, you know. 

So today my business is and I don’t just do infographics. I still do portraits and I also sell gift items like pins and prints and various things that are dog- or cat-related.

So it did start with one dog. I think that is the story for a lot of us.

The books are available from all good bookstores and my Amazon store

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