Can Dogs Eavesdrop?

Do dogs prefer nice people? Researchers look at whether dogs notice who is 'nice' and 'not nice', and how they respond.

A Cat's Gotta Scratch ...

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.

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 and Veterinary Medicine at the University of Padua.…

Can Dogs Cooperate With Each Other and With A Human?


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.

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-and-rescue dogs, some with agility training, and pet …

Diabetes Alert Dogs

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 blurred vision, as well as many complications that can be life-…

Stereotypes and Breeds of Dog

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 members of another group then their attitudes …

Do Children Prefer Baby-Faced Animals?

We know that adults prefer animals with a baby face. Research shows this applies to children too.

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.
The new study asked children aged three to six about their preferences for dogs vs puppies, cats vs kittens, and dogs or cats with baby-face features vs those without. Each child sat at a la…

Homeless Cats: Lessons from Australia

The lessons we can learn from a study of homeless cats in Australia.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Although there are many un-owned cats, surprisingly little is known about the cats taken in by shelters and rescues. Without this information, it is difficult to design strategies to tackle the problem. A study in the Australian Journal of Veterinary Medicine by Alberthsson et al investigates the source and characteristics of cats admitted to RSPCA shelters in Queensland from July 2006 to June 2008.

All eleven RSPCA shelters in Queensland took part. During this time period, a total of 33,736 cats were admitted. Of these, 54% were kittens, defined as three months or under.
The source of the cats was defined as brought in by a person, which included owner surrenders and cats that people had found as strays, or brought in by a member of staff. The vast majority (85%) were brought in by the public.
The sad outcome is that 65% of the cats were euthanized. There were significant variations between shelte…