Getting a puppy? Ask to see both parents

When you're getting a puppy, it's best to see both parents if possible, according to a new study.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

When people get a puppy, a standard piece of advice from many dog welfare organizations is that you should always ask to see the mother. This week, I’m reporting on a new piece of research that investigates whether or not this is good advice.

The study, by Carri Westgarth of the University of Liverpool, UK, was designed to find out if there is a link between behavioural problems, the age of acquisition of a puppy, and whether or not the owner had viewed the mother and father of the puppy before they brought it home.

It has long been suggested that improper welfare of the mother causes behavioural problems in puppies, and that seeing the mother is one way to ensure that the puppy is being raised in an appropriate environment. (See here for research on the long-lasting effects of puppy mills on breeding dogs).

The study was designed carefully to ensure that other …

Now where’s my treat?

A study tests whether dogs and hand-reared wolves prefer food or social interaction as a reward.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Trainers often advise owners to use treats to train their dogs, but some owners want to phase them out as fast as they can. Shouldn’t a dog be prepared to work for just verbal praise and affection? That’s the question asked in a recent study by Erica Feuerbacher and Clive Wynne – and they didn’t just test dogs, but wolves too!

The question is interesting for practical reasons, since it’s useful to know how to motivate a dog if you want to train one. But it’s a very interesting question for another reason too. Some scientists have suggested that dogs are uniquely tuned in to human contact; in other words, that in the process of evolving from wolves, dogs have developed special abilities to read human emotions and communication. If this is the case, then social contact with humans should be a valuable reward in training sessions with dogs, but not wolves.

The study involved …

Why Don’t People Want Pets? Part 2: Dogs


Why Don’t People Want Pets? Part 1: Cats

What stops people from adopting cats from shelters?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

The American Humane Association is investigating how to increase the adoption and retention of animals from shelters. It’s a pressing question because, in the US, 3 to 4 million animals are euthanized every year even though they are healthy and adoptable.

The first part of the study, funded by PetSmart Charities, looked at the reasons why people choose not to have a cat or dog. They interviewed people who had previously had a cat or dog but don’t have one now, and those who have never had a pet as an adult. The results make depressing reading, especially for cat lovers. This week I will focus on what the results mean for cats, and next week I will look at what they say about dogs.

People who had previously owned a cat were most likely to have got the animal from a friend, family or neighbour. About a fifth (18%) had got their cat from a shelter. A sizeable number of cats had arrived as strays (22%). For most of the …

Late Summer

CAPB is on vacation:

If you want to catch up on any posts you've missed, there's the series on dog training (you can start at the beginning or skip to the end), read about the long-term effects of puppy mills on breeding dogs, or find out why some owners don't walk their dogs. If you're more of a cat person, you might enjoy the cat at the window or these reasons why two kittens is better than one. And if you like both cats and dogs, which should you get first?

Back next week!

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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An Ancient Egyptian Mummified Cat

Italian scientists have conducted a radiological examination of a mummified cat.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

In Ancient Egypt, cats were revered. It is thought that cats were first domesticated in Egypt about 10,000 years ago. The first mummified cats were buried with their owners. Over time customs changed, and mummified cats were made as offerings to the feline goddess, Bastet. From 332BC to 30BC, cats were bred specifically to be used as offerings, and cat mummies were available at different price points, ranging from ones containing a few bones, to more elaborate mummies containing the entire cat.

A team of Italian scientists led by Giacomo Gnudi at the University of Parma, in Italy, recently performed a radiological examination of a cat mummy. The mummy is part of the University’s Ancient Egyptian collection, and was bought in the 19th century. Apparently cat mummies were so abundant at this time that 180,000 were shipped to Liverpool in the UK to be turned into fertilizer.
The wrappings …

Positive Reinforcement and Dog Training VII: Summary and Conclusions

The best way to train a dog is by using rewards, but many owners continue to use aversive techniques.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

This is the final part of the series on the scientific research on dog training methods used by ordinary dog owners in ordinary situations. Over the last few weeks, we have looked at five separate studies. The conclusion of all of them is that reward-based training is best.

Two separate questionnaire studies by Hiby et al and Blackwell et al found that dogs trained using only positive reinforcement are more obedient than dogs trained with punishment. Dogs whose owners used punishment were more likely to have behaviour problems such as fear and aggression.

A study of training small dogs versus large dogs by Arhant et al confirmed that greater frequency of punishment is linked to aggression and excitability. These problems are even worse in small dogs, which are trained with less consistency and respond more negatively to punishment.
These studies relied on owner r…