The Importance of Food in Dog Training

Studies show dogs respond better to training when the reward is food.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

It goes without saying that food is vitally important and also one of life’s luxuries. Many people routinely use food such as chicken or treats to train their dogs, while others are offended by the idea and think their dog should obey commands for praise or affection. Who is right?

Several scientists have looked at this topic recently. Last year we reported on a study by Erica Feuerbacher and Clive Wynne that compared the use of a food reward to petting and praise in training. In a series of five studies, they looked at dogs that have owners, dogs that are in shelters (and hence potentially deprived of affection and petting), and hand-reared wolves. Amongst all three groups, food was a better motivator than petting and praise.
One of the striking things about comments on this story was that some people seemed to confuse food and love; they felt that if your dog wanted food then it didn’t love you…

Are Negative Personality Traits Linked to Cruelty to Animals?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Scientists have long wondered if there is a link between cruelty to animals and other criminal acts. However, not much attention has been paid to the link between personality and attitudes to animals. Now a team of scientists led by Phillip Kavanagh at the University of South Australia have investigated whether negative personality traits are associated with negative attitudes to animals.

The paper focusses on three personality traits that are known as the “Dark Triad”: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. Narcissists think they are special, better than other people, and lack warmth. Machiavellianism involves a propensity to deceive other people and to be detached from moral standards. Psychopathy includes interpersonal factors such as lack of empathy as well as lifestyle factors which include impulsiveness and juvenile delinquency. 
The personality traits were assessed using standardized tests, or shortened versions of these tests. There were four question…

A Community Approach to Shelter Animal Adoptions

If whole communities work together, it's better for shelter animals.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Every community has groups of people dedicated to animal welfare and to looking after stray and unwanted animals. What happens if all these people work together? In the USA, the ASPCA has a Partnership program for communities and a paper that evaluates it has just been published, led by Emily Weiss of the ASPCA.

One of the ground rules of the Partnership program is that shelters that take in at least 80% of the animals in a particular community must agree to be involved. This means that things can really happen at a community level, and it is also means there is enough data about the outcomes for animals in shelters for the program to be evaluated. The program makes grant funding available for projects, and it also includes coaching from the ASPCA about how to measure and track animal outcomes.
The study looked at six communities across the US who took part in the program between 2007 and 2011.…

Cats And Their Owners Are More In Sync Than You Think

Is your cat in tune with you? Scientists study the behaviour of cats in homes and when they are most active.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

We all know that cats like to sleep a lot, but there are conflicting reports about the time of day when they are most active. Some scientists say they are most active at night, others in the day-time, and yet others say they are most active at twilight (i.e. crepuscular). Could it be that they are all right – depending on the cat and how it is kept?

Many studies of cats are actually on laboratory cats. So Giuseppe Piccione and colleagues at the University of Messina, in Italy, decided to study the behaviour of cats in homes, and see how they varied.
Ten pet cats took part in the study. They were divided into two groups. Group A lived in a relatively small house, with access to a small garden between 8 and 9am. Group B, in contrast, lived in a large house with a very large garden to which they had continual access, and were shut out of the house overnight.

What Pets Do Children Have, And Which Do They Prefer?

Children have different relationships with dogs than cats.
By Zazie Todd, PhD
Some people have wonderful memories of the pets they had as a child, running through meadows with the dog or playing dress-up with the cat. Others never particularly cared for the animal or spent time with it. Why do some people have such apparently idyllic relationships with their childhood pets, while others don’t?

A fascinating new study led by Dr. Carri Westgarth of the University of Liverpool investigates pet ownership amongst 9 and 10 year old children. The study took part in a deprived area of Liverpool where there is relatively high unemployment. It was part of a wider study that all local primary [elementary] schools are invited to take part in; hence a large number of children completed the survey and they are representative of this area, if not of the UK as a whole.

Just over a thousand children took part, and demographic information was available for 90% of these. Questions were asked about the ma…

Are seniors more satisfied with life if they have pets?

Amongst seniors, whether or not pet ownership is linked to more satisfaction with life seems to depend.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

It’s widely assumed that pets add quality to our lives. We hear all the time that they can lower blood pressure, encourage us to get more exercise, and provide comfort if we are sad. There’s some truth to this – but is it always the case? A new study of people aged 65 and over investigates whether pet ownership is linked to higher satisfaction with life.

The study analyzes data from the Canadian Community Health Survey – Healthy Aging conducted by Statistics Canada. The survey collected data from more than 30,000 Canadians aged over 45 in 2008 and 2009. Chelsea Himsworth and Melanie Rock (Universities of BC and Calgary, respectively) looked at the data for those sixty-five or over, to see what effect pet ownership had. In total, 11,973 people had answered the questions that were needed for this study.
The majority of the seniors lived with someone else and most of…

The end for shock collars?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Something puzzles me about the arguments made by shock collar advocates. On the one hand they claim the e-collar doesn’t hurt, and on the other they say it’s a last resort to prevent ‘dead dogs’ due to recall and chasing problems. Surely the second justification casts doubt on the first? Two new scientific studies funded by the UK’s DEFRA address both arguments, and conclude that e-collars are unnecessary and detrimental to animal welfare.

Shock collars (including invisible fences) are already banned in many countries because of welfare concerns. The DEFRA studies aimed to investigate the welfare of dogs trained using e-collars. The results will surely add to calls for shock collars to be banned in England and Scotland (they have been illegal in Wales since 2010), and elsewhere. 

The first study (Defra AW1402)included extensive pilot work, an investigation of the electrical resistance of wet and dry dogs (conclusion: wet dogs get zapped more), and a comparison of t…