Posts

Why Are Some Breeds of Dog More Popular Than Others?

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Do people choose a breed of dog for its personality, looks, health, or fashion?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

There are so many breeds of dog, it can be hard to choose which one you'd like most. Some are always popular, while other breeds rise or fall in popularity.  A new study by Stefano Ghirlanda et al 2013 investigates whether changes in the most popular breeds over the years reflect personality characteristics, health, or fashion.

We think of different breeds as having different temperaments, such as the “friendly and gentle, but also alert and outgoing” Siberian Husky, the “alert, lively, active, keen” Russell Terrier “with a very intelligent expression,” or the “calm, confident and courageous” Rottweiler. The first question the scientists asked was, is this true?
For their answer, they turned to the C-BARQ, a standardized questionnaire about doggie behaviour and temperament. It has 14 scales including trainability, separation-related behaviour problems, energy levels and so on, and ha…

Perceiving Emotion in Babies and Dogs

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Do babies and dogs process facial expressions in the same way, and if so what does it tell us about the evolution of emotion?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Darwin suggested that some human emotional expressions could have their origins in the facial expressions of other animals, including primates and dogs. If so, there would be similarities in the way people process emotional faces across these different species. While most research has focussed on other primates, a paper just published in PLoS One by Annett Schirmer et al (National University of Singapore) investigates whether or not there are similarities in processing facial expressions in human infants and dogs.

The study asked sixty-four participants, half of whom were dog-owners, to take part in a series of tests. The experiment included both implicit and explicit tests of emotional processing. The explicit tests asked people to look at photographs and rate the emotion being expressed. For the implicit tests, people were shown a photograp…

Can Dogs Smell Quantity of Food?

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Can dogs tell how much food there is just by using their nose?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

We all know dogs’ noses are amazing. From careful attention to the pee-points on their walk, to working as drug or explosive detection dogs, it’s clear dogs have an excellent sense of smell. So it’s surprising that most studies of olfaction are about specially trained dogs, and less attention has been paid to the average pet dog. A paper in press in the journal Learning and Motivation, by Alexandra Horowitz, Julie Hecht and Alexandra Dedrick, sets out to change all that by asking, can dogs smell whether a closed plate contains a small or large quantity of food?

The research is based on a study of canine preferences by Prato-Previde et al in 2008. They found that when dogs could see two plates, one with a small amount of food and the other with a large amount of food, they preferred the plate with more food. No surprises there! However, when given the same choice but with their owners making a fuss over t…

How Do Dogs Interact With an Unidentified Moving Object?

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By Zazie Todd, PhD

One time when I took my dog for a walk, someone was playing with a radio-controlled car on the road. This was Very Exciting (actually most things in life are Very Exciting!). I asked him to heel as we walked past it, but he would have preferred to investigate the car. How do dogs interact with things like this, and does it change if the object moves in an apparently social way?

Robots have been used in studies with various species as a way of experimentally testing the rules of communication. Perhaps the most interesting for dog lovers is Leaver and Reimchen’s (2008) study in which off-leash dogs interacted with a dog-like robot with one of four different possible tails: short and still, short and wagging, long and still, or long and wagging. With the long tail, dogs were more likely to approach if it was wagging rather than still, but there was no difference between the two short tail conditions.
A new study by lead author Anna Gergeley et al in Hungary tests wheth…

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! 


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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…