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Is Income (In)Equality Linked to Animal Welfare?

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Are societies that are more equal for people also better for animal welfare?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Many of the organizations that look after homeless companion animals also advocate for other kinds of animals, including farm animals, wildlife, and animals used in experiments. Earlier research has suggested that, at an individual level, there could be a link between how people treat animals and how they treat people. A new paper by Michael Morris (University of Canterbury, New Zealand) investigates whether or not this is also the case at a societal level; in other words, if societies that are more equal for people are also better for animal welfare.

The idea came from something called the Environmental Kuznets Curve, “the hypothesis that as the per capita income for countries improves, their effect on the environment initially increases as polluting industries grow, but then it starts to decline again after a threshold of income is reached.” For example, technology may improve and consume…

Summer Vacation

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By Zazie Todd, PhD

Companion Animal Psychology Blog is on summer vacation.

If you want to catch up on some reading, our most popular posts so far this year include:
Are young children more interested in animals than toys?

The end for shock collars?

Will grey parrots share?

Do dogs try to hide theft of food?

How do hand-reared wolves and dogs interact with humans?

Why do people surrender dogs to animal shelters?

If you have any special requests for future posts, please leave a comment below. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your summer! 


Zazie Todd, PhD, is the author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. She is the founder of the popular blog Companion Animal Psychology, where she writes about everything from training methods to the human-canine relationship. She also writes a column for Psychology Today and has received the prestigious Captain Haggerty Award for Best Training Article in 2017. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband and two cats.

Useful links:
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Is Food or Affection Better as a Reward in Horse Training?

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In horse training, food is a more effective reward than grooming.


By Zazie Todd, PhD

Several recent studies have found that food is a better reward than petting or praise when training dogs. But what about horses? A new study led by Carol Sankey at the University of Rennes 1 in France investigates whether food is also the way to a horse’s heart.

Twenty horses took part in the study. They were Konik horses, a primitive breed in Poland (pictured). Twelve of the horses were raised in typical domestic conditions, while the remaining eight were raised in a forest reserve in semi-natural conditions. At the time of the study, all of the horses were between 1 and 2 years old, and live in stables. 
The horses were taught a ‘stay’ command starting at 5s and increasing gradually up to 60s if they progressed that far. Training took place for 5 minutes a day over a six-day period, and was conducted in the middle of the stables. Loudspeakers playing white noise were used to ensure that the other hor…

The Importance of Food in Dog Training

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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?

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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

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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

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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.

This…