Do Dogs with Baby Expressions get Adopted Sooner, and What Does it Say about Domestication?

Cute eyebrow movements by dogs influence people’s choice of canine companion.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Theories about the domestication of dogs from wolves suggest that baby-like faces are a by-product of humans selecting for other features. But is it possible they were deliberately selected? A new study in PLoS One by Bridget Waller et al (University of Portsmouth) investigates.
Selecting animals for behavioural traits can end up having unexpected effects on physical characteristics, as shown in the silver fox study by Dimitri K. Belyaev in Siberia. Young foxes were tested to see how they responded to a person, and the least fearful ones were chosen for breeding.

Eventually, after forty generations of breeding, the foxes became tame and domesticated. Even though they were selected for behaviour, they had physical changes such as floppy ears, curly tails, blue eyes, different coat colours, less of a ‘foxy’ smell, and a longer socialization period. (You can read more in this blog by Jason Gol…

Do Children Benefit from Animals in the Classroom?

The beneficial effects of an 8-week class program involving a guinea pig.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Many school classrooms have an animal, whether it’s a fish, rabbit or guinea pig. A new study in Australia by Marguerite O’Haire (University of Queensland) et al investigates whether an eight-week program involving a guinea pig in class leads to improved social skills and a reduction in problem behaviours.

Schools that wanted to take part in the project were divided into two groups, one that received the program and one that was wait-listed. This meant the two groups could be compared. The children were aged between 4 and 12 years old. Teachers and parents completed questionnaires about children at the start and end of the program.
Eighty-two guinea pigs took part in the study. Guinea pigs were chosen because they are friendly, easy to look after, and would likely be happy in the school environment. Each classroom received two guinea pigs, because they are social creatures and need the company …

The Posts of the Year 2013

By Zazie Todd, PhD

A big thank you to all of our readers! We wish you a very happy and healthy 2014!!

The most popular posts of the year were:

1. Are Young Children More Interested in Animals Than Toys?

A set of three studies by Vanessa LoBue et al looked at young children in a naturalistic play environment in which they could choose to interact with animals or toys.

2. The End for Shock Collars?

Research funded by Defra in the UK found that electronic collars do not work better than positive reinforcement training for recall and chasing, and have negative welfare consequences for some dogs, even when used by qualified trainers. In addition, "some end-users either fail to read the instructions, misunderstand or deliberately disregard the advice in the manuals."

3.  How Do Hand-Reared Wolves and Dogs Interact with Humans?

The question of how dogs evolved from wolves is complicated, but it is clear there are important differences that could arise from genetics, domestication…

Season's Greetings

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year  from  Companion Animal Psychology Blog!

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Can Fatal Dog Attacks Be Prevented?

A sobering new report shows such tragic attacks are a multi-factorial problem.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Cases of humans being killed by dogs are investigated in a new paper by lead author Gary Patronek (Center for Animals and Public Policy, Tufts University).The scientists analyzed dog bite fatalities in the United States from 2000 to 2009, and discovered there are usually multiple contributing factors, many of them preventable.
During this time, there was an average of 25.6 dog bite fatalities per year, equivalent to 0.087 fatal bites per one million people per year. To put this in context, it is much less than the risk of being struck by lightning in the United States, which is estimated at 1 in 775,000 people per year.
Previous research has relied on media reports, which may not be entirely accurate or provide the full story. In this study, although the scientists used the media to help identify cases of dog bite fatalities, they also searched national death records. Up until 2007, when p…

Should You Take Your Dog to the Dog Park?

Dogs are social creatures, but while some dogs clearly love to visit dog parks, others seem less happy about it. New research by Ottenheimer Carrier et al (Memorial University of Newfoundland) investigates whether the dog park is stressful, and what dogs do there.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Dog parks are open spaces, usually fenced, where dogs can be off-leash. They are particularly useful in municipalities where leash laws mean there are few spaces for dogs to run free. The researchers recruited owners at a dog park and asked if their dogs could take part.
Eleven dogs took part in the first study, in which saliva samples were collected before and after a walk, before arrival at the dog park, and after being in the dog park for about twenty minutes. Because some samples did not get enough saliva, full results were available for six dogs. The results showed that salivary cortisol levels were higher after 20 minutes in the dog park compared to before they arrived. There was no difference in leve…

Do Dogs Or Hand-Reared Wolves Pay More Attention to People?

What does a study of attention tell us about the domestication of dogs?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Theories about the domestication of dogs often say they have evolved to pay more attention to humans than their wolf forebears. But the experimental evidence tends to only look at dogs. A new study by Friederike Range (University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna) and Szófia Virányi (Wolf Science Centre) compares the abilities of dogs and hand-reared wolves to utilize observations of human or dog behaviour to find food.

Eleven wolves and fourteen dogs took part in the study. They were hand-reared in similar conditions, and all were taught basic obedience such as sit, down, and how to walk on a leash. They were tested at 4, 5 and 7 months of age.
The study took place in a meadow. A dead chick was used as food in the experiment. Each wolf or dog was held on a short leash while a demonstrator (human or canine) put the chick in one of three locations. Then they were released on a 10m long line to explore…