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By Zazie Todd, PhD

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What about the rabbits? How do pet rabbits end up in shelters?

Owner surrender is a common reason, but Easter is not the most common time for rabbits to arrive at shelters, according to this research.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Rabbits are popular pets because they are intelligent and fun, will cuddle with you, and can learn to use a litter tray. But while everyone knows there is a crisis of homeless dogs and cats, what about rabbits? A recent study by Amelia Cook and Emily McCobb (Tufts University) set out to see how many pet rabbits end up in animal shelters, and what happens once they are there.

Four animal shelter sites in Rhode Island and Providence took part, some with more than one physical shelter location. Cook and McCobb looked at the records for a six year period from 2005 to 2010. They excluded any rabbits that were found to be wild or that were already dead on intake (unfortunately some were dead on arrival). A total of 5,408 live domestic rabbits were taken in at the shelters during this time.

Rabbits had the third highest intake level of co…

Frustration in Pet Dog Training

Do dogs get frustrated during extinction trials? Researchers put this to the test.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Does your dog ever seem frustrated when you are trying to train him? A new study by Adriana Jakovcevic and colleagues looks at frustration behaviours in pet dogs during training sessions. They looked specifically at something called extinction. This is when the dog has a behaviour that you want to get rid of (i.e. extinguish) for one reason or another.

Dogs do things that get rewarded and so the way to extinguish a behaviour is to stop rewarding it. For example, many people find jumping up annoying, but actually reward it by patting the dog or speaking to it when it jumps. Hence, the dog keeps jumping. When you stop rewarding the behaviour, it will stop.
The experiment involved teaching dogs a new behaviour (looking at the experimenter) using positive reinforcement, and then trying to extinguish it. Forty-five pet dogs took part. They were tested individually, either indoors in a confin…

Do Dogs Find Their Owners Presence Supportive When a Threatening Stranger Comes Near?

By Zazie Todd, PhD
How does your dog compare to a toddler? Recent animal research is comparing the abilities of dogs with young humans. A brand new study by Márta Gácsi et al in Hungary investigates whether dogs have the same response as infants to a test called the Strange Situation.
In humans, attachment theory explains how children need to develop a strong attachment to at least one caregiver. If they don’t, their social and emotional development will be disrupted. As infants begin to crawl, the caregiver is a ‘secure base’ from which to explore. 
Mary Ainsworth developed the Strange Situation as a way of investigating attachment. This is a standardized procedure in which the infant is in a room with their caregiver when a stranger comes in. Following a strict protocol, the baby is left alone with the stranger, then comforted by the caregiver, left all alone, then joined by the stranger again. An infant that is securely attached will be upset when the caregiver leaves the room, but …

What influences a dog's length of stay at a no-kill animal shelter?

Are some types of dog adopted more quickly from animal shelters than others?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

A study by William Brown and colleagues at Keuka College looked at two no-kill shelters in New York State in order to answer this question.

A no-kill shelter is one that will only kill animals that are too ill or too bad-natured to be adopted; some of them will even work with animals to try and resolve behavioural problems before assessing them again. There are very few no-kill shelters in the US; most shelters and municipal animal controls will euthanize dogs for reasons such as lack of space. 
Brown et al looked at the shelter records from January 2008 until sometime in either 2010 or 2011 (different for each shelter). This gave a total of 203 dogs that had been adopted in that time. They categorized the dogs according to the information on the record cards, looking at age, breed, size and colour. 
The colours were very descriptive (e.g. apricot, butterscotch) and so they reduced them to n…

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

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?

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…