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Do Dogs Get that Eureka! Feeling?

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Does successful problem solving make dogs happy, or does simply getting the reward make them happy too? Photo: Mackland (Shutterstock) By Zazie Todd, PhD New research by Ragen McGowan et al (University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden) investigates whether dogs enjoy the experience of solving a problem in order to obtain a reward, or if it is just the reward itself that makes them happy. Rather unusually, the idea came from a study that found cattle who completed a task to earn a reward seemed to be happier than those who just received the reward. The design of McGowan et al’s study is very similar, but adjusted for dogs. The results show that when dogs solved the problem and earned a reward they wagged their tails more and were more eager to repeat the experience than if they were just given a reward. The study also found that food was a preferred reward over time with another dog and petting from a familiar human. Six matched pairs of beagles took part (12 d

Is Cruelty to Animals in Childhood a Predictor of Later Criminal Behaviour?

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Does cruelty to animals as a child predict interpersonal violence in adulthood? Photo: Rita Kochmarjova / Shutterstock By Zazie Todd, PhD New research by Kelly Knight, Colter Ellis and Sara Simmons (Sam Houston State University) investigates how many children are cruel to animals and whether it persists through generations. The study is especially valuable because it uses a sample that is representative of the US population and tracks families over the years. There are two main theories about childhood cruelty to animals. One theory is that if children are cruel to animals they will grow up to be violent adults. This is called the “graduation hypothesis”. It rests on the idea that there is something wrong with the individual and that they ‘graduate’ from animal abuse to interpersonal violence. This seems to be the theory we hear about most in the popular press. Although there is some evidence to support it, it may not be the whole story. An alternate theory is that i

What was the Role of Cats in Anglo Saxon England?

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Fascinating new research investigates what the archaeological record tells us about people and cats in Anglo Saxon times. Was the human-feline relationship very different from today? Photo: aleksandr hunta / Shutterstock By Zazie Todd, PhD New research by Kristopher Poole (University of Nottingham) investigates the role of cats in Anglo Saxon England. The period from AD 410 until the Norman invasion of 1066 was a time of great change. The Roman Empire had lost its control and many people immigrated to England, particularly from northern Europe. The urban population grew as small towns developed, and the spread of Christianity brought changes in people’s belief systems. What kind of relationship did people have with cats during this time? This page contains affiliate links. Fur is probably not the first thing you think of, but evidence from bones suggests that some cats – especially young ones – were used for fur. It isn’t known if the cats were bred f

Did Dogs, Cats and Cows Predict the Magnitude 9 Earthquake in Japan in 2011?

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Is it possible that animals had advance warning of the Tohoku earthquake? Photo: Paul Atkinson / Shutterstock By Zazie Todd, PhD There have long been reports of animals behaving strangely before large quakes, including an account of snakes, weasels and rats leaving home prior to an earthquake in Greece in 373BC . But there is still a lack of scientific evidence.   A new study in Japan investigates pet owners’ reports of cat and dog behaviour, and changes in dairy milk production, before the magnitude 9 earthquake in 2011. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan on 11th March 2011 was devastating . After the quake, in December 2011 and January 2012, Japanese scientists Hiroyuki Yamauchi et al (2014) conducted an internet survey of pet owners.  As well as obtaining demographic information about pets, they asked about any unusual behaviour exhibited in the minutes, hours and days prior to the earthquake. The checklist included things like howling and barking (for dogs), vocali

Guinea Pigs and Domestication

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Domestication changes animals in many ways. We still don’t fully understand how – or when, or where – the dog was domesticated. But it turns out the guinea pig is the guinea pig of domestication research as scientists compare guinea pigs to their wild cousins, cavies. Photo: Ase / Shutterstock By Zazie Todd, PhD A new paper by Benjamin Zipser et al (University of M√ľnster, Germany) compares adolescent guinea pigs and wild cavies. Previous research has found differences between adult guinea pigs and cavies in things like sociability, aggression, and exploratory behaviour.   But no one had found out whether these differences were already present in adolescent guinea pigs, until now. The word cavy is sometimes used to refer to different members of the guinea pig family, including the domestic guinea pig. The wild cavies in this study were Cavia aperea , also known as the Brazilian guinea pig .   It is found in the grasslands of several South American countries including Bra

What Do People Look for When Adopting a Dog?

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A study of over 2000 shelter dogs investigates the physical and behavioural characteristics that help dogs get rehomed. Some of the results may surprise you. Photo: Melissa King / Shutterstock By Zazie Todd, PhD A recent study by Christina Siettou et al (University of Kent) uses techniques from consumer analysis to gain a better understanding of people’s choices when adopting a dog from a shelter.   The researchers looked at the different characteristics of dogs waiting for homes and compared it to the likelihood that a new home is found.  The online profiles of 2,037 dogs, described as available on the Dogs Trust website, were tracked from first appearance until they were adopted. Dogs Trust was chosen because it has 18 re-homing centres across the UK and takes care of more than 16,000 dogs every year. Their rehoming procedure includes a thorough behavioural assessment that typically lasts 7 days , including time spent in ‘real life’ rooms at the shelter that mimic ho

Feeding the Felines: Does Food Intake Change with the Seasons?

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Do you ever feel like you want to eat more in the winter than in summer? It could be that your cat is the same. Photo: Nadezhda Nesterova / Shutterstock By Zazie Todd, PhD New research by Samuel Serisier et al (2014) investigates how much cats choose to eat at different times of year. The results show seasonal variations in food intake in cats that were allowed free access to food. The study took place over a four-year period in the South of France. 38 cats took part, including 7 Bengal cats, 6 European shorthairs, 5 Maine Coons and a range of other breeds. There were 17 male cats (almost all neutered) and 21 female (of which ten were spayed).    The cats were all healthy, although 16 of them were overweight at the start (and end) of the study.  The cats were resident at the Royal Canin Research Centre. 8 of the cats were indoors-only, and the rest of the cats had an indoor pen with access to an outdoor run. They lived in colonies of 8 cats. There was a two-hour peri