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Fear of Loud Noises: A Common Problem in Domestic Dogs?

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Fear of loud noises is common in pet dogs, but many owners miss the signs, study shows.

By Zazie Todd, PhD




Do you have a dog that cowers at the sound of thunder, or comes running to you for comfort when the neighbours set off fireworks? A new study by Emily-Jayne Blackwell, John Bradshaw and Rachel Casey (University of Bristol) investigates how common this problem is.

The study involved a questionnaire completed by 3,897 dog owners, and a structured interview with a smaller set of 383 dog owners. Dog owners were recruited in a variety of ways, including at dog shows, veterinary clinics, and whilst out walking their dogs. A wide variety of breeds took part, including 16% cross-breeds.

The questionnaire asked for demographic information about the dogs and their owners, and then asked the question ‘Does your dog show a fearful response to noises?’ Questions were also asked about other behavioural problems the dog might have, such as soiling in the house, chewing, and hiding from unfamilia…

How Do Kenneled Dogs React to Familiar and Unfamiliar Dogs?

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By Zazie Todd, PhD

Environmental enrichment is an important thing for kenneled dogs, as it can alleviate boredom and improve animal welfare. Enrichment can occur in many ways, including the availability of suitable toys, the design of the kennel, the kind of food that is fed and possibly even music. This week we look at a study by Anne Pullen, Ralph Merrill and John Bradshaw that investigates whether spending time with other dogs is beneficial.

The twenty-two dogs that took part live at the Waltham Pet Nutrition Centre, where they had either been born or lived since the age of nine weeks. The dogs are housed in pairs in kennels, with daily training and exercise, and kennel staff in sight all day. The dogs’ usual routines and clicker-training sessions continued during this study. Three breeds of dog were chosen: Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers and Miniature Schnauzers. 

Each dog that was observed (the ‘focal dog’) was tested separately with a familiar and an unfamiliar dog. The fa…

Do dogs have stable personality traits?

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By Zazie Todd, PhD

We often talk about people having particular personality types, such as extroversion/introversion. Is it true that dogs have particular personalities too, and are they fixed or do they change over time? A new study by Jamie Fratkin (University of Texas at Austin) and colleagues takes a look at this.

The question is useful to many people. Trainers of guide dogs, police dogs and other service dogs would really like to be able to spot suitable candidates at a young age, so as not to waste time training an animal that isn’t going to make it into their program. Rescues and shelters would like to know that the tests they use to determine whether a dog is adoptable will predict its behaviour in a new home.
The study is what’s called a meta-analysis. This is where researchers take a large number of studies that have previously been conducted and pool the results statistically, to see if conclusions can be drawn from the field as a whole. In order to do this, the studies hav…

Are young children more interested in animals than toys?

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What do children spend time with when given a choice between animals and attractive toys?


By Zazie Todd, PhD

At what age do children develop a fascination with animals? A brand new paper by Vanessa LoBue et al investigates young children’s interest in live animals. A set of three studies looked at young children in a naturalistic play environment in which they could choose to interact with animals or toys.

The animals were always in an enclosure, so the children could only look at them and not physically touch them. One obvious difference between animals and toys is that the animals move. It would be very difficult to control for this, so for the purposes of this research animals were chosen that did not move much. For example, since hamsters are nocturnal the hamster mostly slept through the interactions.
The first study was an exploratory one involving children aged between 11 and 40 months. The animals were a blue and red Betta fish and a tan Sentinel hamster. They were positioned i…

Homeless Cats in Canada

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By Zazie Todd, PhD

A report by the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies is depressing reading for cat lovers, and confirms what studies in other countries have shown: that the situation for homeless cats is even worse than for homeless dogs.

The CFHS surveyed organizations that are responsible for homeless cats, such as humane societies, SPCAs, rescues and municipal animal controls, as well as veterinarians. They also conducted a telephone survey of the general public.
They found that 37% of households in Canada have one or more cats, and estimate there are a total of 10.2 million owned cats. In fact, the number of households with cats has been increasing slightly, while the number of households with dogs has gone down a little. Of the cats that are owned, only 80% are spayed or neutered, and this is where things start to go downhill.
Although 25% of Canadians say they are most likely to adopt their next cat from a shelter or rescue, the most common source of a cat (36%) is essenti…

Does Experience Help People Recognize Emotion in Dogs?

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People are better at recognizing fear in dogs if they have experience, study shows.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

In last week’s post about dogs’ responses to petting by familiar and unfamiliar people, we said dogs generally prefer to be petted in certain places, and people don’t always recognize the subtle signals that show when a dog is uncomfortable. This week, we’re looking at a study that investigates whether experience with dogs helps people to recognize canine emotions such as happiness and fear.

The internet survey was conducted by Michele Wan and colleagues at Columbia University, New York, and was completed by 2,163 participants. There were 16 short video clips of dogs, sometimes with people, in various situations. They were shown with no sound, so people could only use visual signals. Several different dog breeds and mixes were shown in the videos so that the results would not be due to specific dogs or breeds.

After each clip, participants were asked to say what emotion the dog was di…

Dogs’ Responses to Affection from Familiar and Unfamiliar People

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How do dogs respond to affection from familiar and unfamiliar people?



By Zazie Todd, PhD

When my Siberian husky wants affection, he will come and stand near me. If I don’t respond immediately, he will lick his lips and move closer, possibly leaning on me, until I respond. Sometimes when I start to pet him, he will lick his lips again, but if I take this as a sign that he’d like me to stop, he licks his lips even more and moves closer or paws at me to ask me to start petting again. At some point he will sit, and then lay down and ask for chest rubs. From his perspective, chest rubs should last at least half an hour, and if I stop at any point before this there will be more licking of lips and pawing at me.

I was interested to read a new paper by Franziska Kuhne and colleagues in Germany that investigates how dogs respond to petting from both familiar and unfamiliar people. Twenty-four pet dogs took part, of assorted ages, genders, breeds/cross-breeds and training levels. Since the exper…