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Behavioural problems in rabbits, rodents and ferrets

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Common behaviour problems in rabbits, rodents and ferrets include aggression and house-soiling. Photo: Oksana Shufrych / Shutterstock By Zazie Todd, PhD Many people keep rabbits, rodents and ferrets as pets. A study published last year by Normando and Galli (Padua University) is the first to investigate the kind of behavioural problems they have and how it affects owners’ feelings of satisfaction with their animals. Participants were recruited via an Italian rabbit forum, the University of Padua, and local veterinary clinics. The survey was completed by 193 people about a total of 371 pets. The pets included 184 rabbits, 59 mustelids (mainly ferrets, but also including two skunks), and 128 rodents (including guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, chinchillas, rats and other rodents). This page contains affiliate links. Most owners reported no problems, but 29% of rabbit owners, 53% of mustelid owners, and 20% of rodents had a behavioural problem. For rabbits

CAWC report on shock collars

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A report from the Companion Animal Welfare Council looks at the evidence so far on electronic collars in dog training. By Zazie Todd, PhD In September, the UK’s Companion Animal Welfare Council published a report on the scientific evidence on the use of shock collars in dog training . They use the term ‘electronic pulse training aids’ or EPTAs, because the collars do not necessarily induce a ‘shock’ but may sometimes be used only to induce a tickling sensation. I will use the everyday term here. The report included the use of collars as a training aid as well as invisible fences designed to administer an electric current if the dog crosses a boundary. The independent review was chaired by Professor D.S. Mills, and looked at the scientific evidence, accepted submissions from interested parties, and undertook a small-scale survey of their use in the UK. The ten peer-reviewed studies discussed in the report looked at the use of shock collars for a surprisingly wide range of behavi

Canine Neuroscience

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The ground-breaking study in which two dogs were trained to keep still and have an fMRI. By Zazie Todd, PhD The main problem with the neuroscience of dogs is that they would have to be sedated to be in the scanner, and then their brain wouldn’t be doing its normal stuff. Until now. A team of scientists led by Gregory Berns at Emory University has successfully trained two dogs to go into the fMRI scanner and keep still long enough for a brain scan. Prof Berns says he got the idea from realizing what military dogs are trained to do – if a dog can parachute out of a plane with its handler, he thought, then surely it could do an fMRI. The dogs are Callie, a two-year-old feist (small hunting dog), and McKenzie, a three-year-old border collie. And while McKenzie does agility, Callie had only had basic obedience training, and is a rescue dog. (If anyone ever tries to say negative things about rescue dogs, tell them about Callie!). The dog training was complex and took place

Getting a puppy? Ask to see both parents

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When you're getting a puppy, it's best to see both parents if possible, according to a new study. Photo: Stephen Coburn/Shutterstock 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 ).

Now where’s my treat?

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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! Photo: LarsTuchel / Shutterstock 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 sess

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

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What stops people from adopting dogs from shelters? By Zazie Todd, PhD The AHA/PetSmart Charities study on barriers to the adoption of dogs has some interesting findings (see last week for the results on cats ). The survey included previous owners (people who had owned a dog/cat before, but at least 12 months ago) and non-owners (who had never owned a dog/cat as an adult).  The most common source of a dog was from family, a friend or neighbour (38%), with 22% going to a shelter and 16% to a breeder.   As with cats , the main reason they no longer had the dog was because it had died or had to be put to sleep, and the second-most common reason was because the pet was given away, often because of housing requirements (e.g. the landlord said no pets). More than half of previous owners had had the dog for over ten years, and a quarter for between five and ten years. Amongst previous dog owners, the main reasons for not getting a new dog were vet costs (30%), general costs (

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

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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. Photo: wjarek / Shutterstock 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