Discussion of Dogs’ Behavioural Problems at the Vet

Behavioural issues are often not mentioned at the vet, even when they are a problem.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Surprisingly little is known about where people seek advice when their dog has a behavioural problem such as aggression, soiling in the house, or fear of fireworks. One place to try might be the vet, but do veterinarians talk to their clients about behavioural problems during the annual consultation for vaccinations?

A study published in the Veterinary Record by Roshier and McBride recorded vet consultations and transcribed the conversations for analysis. The study was conducted at a vet’s in Nottingham where six veterinarians took part. The receptionists identified people who met the criteria for the study, and directed them to the researcher who was waiting in the waiting room. Of twenty-one people who were asked to take part, seventeen agreed. After the consultation, participants completed a questionnaire about themselves, their dog, and their relationship with their vet.

The cons…

Do Dogs Try to Hide Theft of Food?

Will your dog steal food even if you can see or hear the theft take place? Two new studies investigate whether dogs can take a human’s perspective in deciding whether to take a piece of forbidden food.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Earlier work has shown that dogs and other animals seem to have an awareness of human visual attention. For example, Gácsi et al (2004) found that dogs were more likely to beg from an attentive rather than an inattentive human. However, it is not known if dogs understand what a human can see or hear.

One way to test this is to see how dogs respond to different light levels. Juliane Kaminski of Portsmouth University designed three experiments that took place in a room with the windows blacked out. Dogs wore a reflective collar to make it easier to see them, and an infrared camera recorded what happened. The dogs first had to pass a pre-test in which they were taught to leave a piece of food on the ground for sixty seconds. 

The experimenter put food on the ground and to…

Is having many cats an early sign of animal hoarding?

Do people who own more than twenty cats show greater attachment to their pets, or signs of anxiety and depression?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

In January of this year, 99 live cats and 67 dead ones were removed from a woman’s home near Albany, New York. The cats were living in crates surrounded by faeces, and the woman was subsequently charged with animal cruelty. If situations like this could be predicted, psychological help at an early stage might prevent animals from being harmed. A study published this month by Ramos et al in Brazil investigates whether or not the early stages of cat hoarding can be identified.

Animal hoarders have large numbers of animals for which they do not provide proper care. They are unaware of (or in denial about) the poor state of their animals, and continue to acquire more. Animal hoarders can have psychological problems including attachment disorders, anxiety, and grief. The most commonly hoarded animals are cats.

It is often reported that animal hoarders have p…

How do Hand-Reared Wolves and Dogs Interact with Humans?

Dogs and hand-reared wolves react differently to approaches from an experimenter.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

The question of how dogs evolved from wolves is complicated, but it is clear there are important differences that could arise from genetics, domestication, experience, or a combination of these.A study just published by Marta Gácsi in Budapest investigates whether dogs and hand-reared wolves behave the same during a changing social situation with a human.

The wolves that took part in the study were hand-reared by humans from birth, spending the first few months of their life in a house with their caregiver. The wolves attended dog training (usually puppy class) while young. Now they live at a wolf park but are regularly visited by their caregivers, and take part in experiments and other activities such as education programs. Thus, the wolves are highly socialized and accustomed to human contact.
In the first experiment, 13 wolves and 13 pet dogs took part. They were put on a lead and ti…

Happy Birthday!

Companion Animal Psychology Blog is celebrating its first anniversary! Thank you to all our lovely readers for the encouragement and support.

We will continue to publish every Wednesday at 5.30am Pacific Time (1.30pm in the UK). See you on Wednesday!

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…