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Can Dogs Eavesdrop?

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Do dogs prefer nice people? Researchers look at whether dogs notice who is 'nice' and 'not nice', and how they respond. Photo: Sophie Louise Davis / Shutterstock By Zazie Todd, PhD Several studies suggest that dogs pay attention when humans are nice to someone, and preferentially approach the ‘nice’ rather than ‘not nice’ person. A new study by Esteban Freidin et al investigates dogs’ eavesdropping abilities in the search for further evidence on this ability. Studies of canine eavesdropping typically involve a scenario in which two people have food and another person, playing the role of ‘beggar’, approaches to ask for some. One person gives food to the beggar, while the other refuses. After observing this, dogs are released to see which person they will approach first. In a study by Sarah Marshall-Pescini et al (2011), dogs that observed generous versus selfish donors later chose to approach the generous person. This preference was strongest when both do

A Cat's Gotta Scratch ...

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Research shows that if a scratching post is available, cats will use it. By Zazie Todd, PhD Scratching is a normal behaviour for a cat, but can be problematic for owners if a cat chooses to scratch the wrong items. A new study by Manuel Mengoli et al in Italy investigates feline scratching behaviour amongst a mixed sample of cats . Photo: Imageman / Shutterstock Cats scratch for a variety of reasons, including communicating with other cats via visible scratch marks and olfactory signals left behind from glands in the plantar pads. It may also keep their claws sharp and healthy. Although scratching is a normal behaviour, it can also be a sign of stress. As the authors say, “the use of scratching as a marking signal is normal in a wide territory, but when it is observed repeatedly inside the house, it is reasonable to conclude that the animal is not feeling safe in that specific environment.” Cat owners were recruited via vet clinics and the departments of Psychology an

Can Dogs Cooperate With Each Other and With A Human?

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 By Zazie Todd, PhD In the process of domestication, it seems that dogs have become especially attuned to human communication. Does this mean they can cooperate with a human to solve a problem? And what if they need to cooperate with another dog instead? A study in press by Ostojić and Clayton investigates. Photo: Jim Parkin / Shutterstock The study is based on a “string task” in which two dogs (or a dog and a human) have to pull each end of a string in order to gain access to food that is otherwise out of reach on a platform.  The dogs were trained initially on a task they could solve on their own, because both ends of the string were close enough together. Some dogs opened their mouths very wide to get both ends in at once, while others used their paw to bring the ends closer together to make them fit in their jaw. When they pulled, a treat fell off the platform for them to eat. Twenty-nine dogs were trained on this initial task. They included a number of search-

Diabetes Alert Dogs

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Photo: Mila Atkovska / Shutterstock Can dogs be trained to alert diabetics when their blood sugar levels fall too low or too high?  By Zazie Todd, PhD A new study by Nicola Rooney (University of Bristol) et al investigates the success of just such a program. Medical Detection Dogs is a charity in the UK that trains dogs to detect disease. For example, they are investigating whether it is possible to train dogs to help with the early diagnosis of cancer, such as detecting prostate cancer from urine samples. They have bedbug detection dogs, who raise money to support the charity, which is reliant on public donations. And they also have medical alert dogs, trained to alert diabetics when their blood sugar becomes dangerously low. Type 1 diabetes is a serious medical condition in which the pancreas is not able to produce enough insulin. Consequently, there is not enough insulin to get sugar into the cells. The symptoms include increased thirst, hunger, fatigue and blurre

Stereotypes and Breeds of Dog

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Photo: dezi / Shutterstock Can social psychological theories of stereotypes about people also explain people’s attitudes and stereotypes of different breeds of dog? By Zazie Todd, PhD That’s the fascinating question posed in a new study by Tracey Clarke, Jonathan Cooper and Daniel Mills of the University of Lincoln. Some jurisdictions have breed-specific legislation that bans particular breeds of dog , usually those of pit bull type. This includes the UK, where this study took place. Stories of attacks by this kind of dog also often get significant media attention. One question behind this research is whether people’s beliefs about certain breeds of dog are influenced by stereotypes. The “contact hypothesis” is a well-known and well-tested idea in social psychology. It says that our attitudes towards other groups of people – such as those of a different race to ourselves – are influenced by contact with that group. In particular, if people have positive contact with me

Do Children Prefer Baby-Faced Animals?

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We know that adults prefer animals with a baby face. Research shows this applies to children too. Photo: Hriana/Shutterstock By Zazie Todd, PhD It’s widely known that adults find a baby-face attractive, whether on a human baby or an animal such as a puppy or kitten. There’s a neural basis for this, which makes us want to care for babies and things that resemble them. A new study by Marta Borgi and Francesca Cirulli (2013) asks if young children show the same preference as adults for neoteny in cats and dogs. Several research studies have found that children are attracted to animals. For example, LoBue et al   (2013) found that young children have apreference for live animals over an attractive set of toys . In this study, children spent more time interacting with the animals, and also more time talking about them, than the toys. This page contains affiliate links. The new study asked children aged three to six about their preferences for dogs vs puppi