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Animal Book Club August 2020

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“As close to sitting around the campfire with Ken Ramirez as most of us are likely to get”—Susan Friedman



By Zazie Todd, PhD

This month, the Companion Animal Psychology Book Club is reading The Eye Of The Trainer by Ken Ramirez.
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From the back cover,
“In The Eye of the Trainer, Ken Ramirez brings to life the power of positive reinforcement training to build trust and transform lives. Ken is one of the most creative, cogent, and effective animal trainers in the world. His positive reinforcement training principles and practices are studied, replicated, and applied in settings as diverse as conservation efforts with elephants on the African plains, canine search and rescue in Texas, oil-disaster recovery for sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico, butterfly training in England, and animal shelters in Chicago.  In this inspiring, heartwarming, and hopeful series of essays chronicling his 40+ years of global exploration and observation, Ken shares not only the …

An Interview with Dr. Patricia McConnell about The Education of Will

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“Individuals who’ve been traumatized have to have a safe space.” Dr. Patricia McConnell speaks about her memoir, The Education of Will.


In June, the Animal Book Club read Dr. Patricia McConnell’s book, The Education of Will: Healing a Dog, Facing My Fears, Reclaiming My Life. This is a powerful memoir of trauma and healing that recounts how she came to terms with her own trauma and in the process was able to heal her beloved dog, Willie. Of course, Dr. McConnell is also the author of many long-time favourite dog training books, including The Other End of the Leash and For the Love of a Dog. I had the honour of speaking to Dr. Patricia McConnell about The Education of Will.

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Zazie: Why did you decide to write this book?

Patricia: Oh my! It was originally not going to be a book, actually. It was originally therapy. I was in therapy and my therapist talked about the value – and I know the science behind it – of writing about traumatic events. She said to j…

Four Diversity Initiatives in Animal Behaviour, Dog Training, & Veterinary Medicine

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Four current initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion that you might like to know about.


By Zazie Todd, PhD
There are some encouraging moves to promote diversity at the moment. Here are four current or upcoming initiatives from the fields of dog training, veterinary medicine, and animal behaviour.
Black in Animal Behavior WeekBlack in Animal Behavior Week started 23rd July as a prelude to the Animal Behavior Society’s 2020 virtual meeting. Follow the hashtag #BlackinAnimalBehavior on Twitter (note the American spelling) and get to know Black animal behavior scientists and what they do, complete with photos and videos of the species they study in the wild or in the lab. 


Petition to the AVMA to address systemic racism in veterinary medicineTen groups have come together to create this petition which lists a set of specific demands to address racism in veterinary medicine. The organizations are the Association of Asian Veterinary Medical Professionals, BlackDVM Network, Latinx Veterina…

Positive Reinforcement is More Effective at Training Dogs than an Electronic Collar, Study Shows

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New research got professional dog trainers to train dogs who had issues with off-leash disobedience. Positive reinforcement worked better than an electronic collar, without the risks. 

By Zazie Todd, PhD
We’ve known for a while that training dogs with aversive methods, including electronic collars, has risks for animal welfare. Positive reinforcement training is effective and does not have those risks. New research from the University of Lincoln, published today in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, finds that in a typical situation where proponents of electronic collars often recommend them, positive reinforcement training by trainers who specialize in reward-based training works better than training with or without a shock collar by trainers who would normally use a shock collar. 
The scientists say, “These findings refute the suggestion that training with an E-collar is either more efficient or results in less disobedience, even in the hands of experienced trainers. In many ways, trainin…

Companion Animal Psychology News July 2020

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Dogs learning to detect COVID-19, cats' whiskers, and fostering in lockdown... this month's CAP news.


By Zazie Todd, PhD
My Favourites This Month“The news that dogs such as Asher could be deployed to detect Covid-19 might have an “and finally…” ring to it. But there is serious science behind the idea.” Winning by a nose: the dogs being trained to detect COVID-19 by Tim Lewis. 
“The question that emerges from this controversy is whether or not whisker stress is real, or just a made up marketing ploy to sell everyone new food dishes for their cats. Finally, science comes to the rescue!” Whisker stress: Science asks if it is real. Great write-up by Dr. Mikel Delgado of some new research on cats’ preferences for eating bowls. The results might not be what you think, but what does your kitty prefer?  “In fact, many trainers are finding that holding classes and private sessions online via videoconference is more than a stopgap: There are advantages for them, for their clients and for do…

Dogs, But Not Pigs, Look to People for Help with a Problem

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Even when the miniature pigs have been raised just like pet dogs. Is this why dogs are so special? Video included.


By Zazie Todd, PhD
Every dog owner has probably had a situation where their dog has looked to them for help, perhaps when a coveted ball or treat has ended up out of reach under the sofa. Is this something special about dogs and their relationship with us? Research already shows that wolves (not domesticated) don’t do this, and nor do cats (domesticated, but not a social species in the same way as dogs). So what about pigs? 
Pigs are both domesticated and social as a species. And individual pigs are especially friendly if they have been reared just like pet dogs are. This is the case for the miniature pigs at the Family Pig Project at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary. New research from the Department of Ethology at the university, published today in Animal Cognition, compares pigs to dogs when it comes to help-seeking behaviour.
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10 juv…

The Factors Involved in Dogs’ Fear of Strangers and Unfamiliar Dogs

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Less socialization, less exercise, fewer activities with the owner, less training, and breed differences are all linked to social fear in dogs, survey shows.


By Zazie Todd, PhD
Large numbers of pet dogs are affected by fear and anxiety. 72.5% of pet dogs have at least one form of canine anxiety, according to a survey of over 13,000 Finnish dog owners, with sound sensitivity the most common type. Research by Dr. Jenni Puurunen et al (University of Helsinki), published in Scientific Reports, looks at a subset of these dogs to find out the possible causes of social fears (i.e. fear of unknown people and fear of unfamiliar dogs).
6,000 pet dogs were included in the analysis of fear of strangers and/or a fear of dogs they did not know. The results show some expected places where dog owners can do better, and a few more unexpected findings too. 
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The biggest factor in both fear of strangers and fear of unknown dogs was inadequate socialization during the time f…