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How Does a Dog's Brain Respond to the Smell of a Familiar Human?

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And what does it tell us about the importance of people to their dogs?


By Zazie Todd, PhD

New fMRI research by Gregory Berns et al (in press) shows that dog’s brains respond differently to the smell of a familiar human compared to an unfamiliar human and other canines – suggesting that certain people are special to their dogs.
The research focussed on a part of the brain called the caudate, which has been much investigated in humans, monkeys and rats. The scientists explain that “caudate activity is correlated with salient, usually rewarding signals that cause the animal to change its behavioural orientation to approach or consume the stimulus.”

Previous research by the team showed that this part of the brain lights up when the dog is given a hand signal that means it will be given a treat, confirming that caudate activation in dogs is connected with rewards.

The results showed that the caudate was activated significantly more in response to the smell of the familiar human than to any …

Are All Labrador Retrievers the Same?

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Or do show dogs and field dogs vary in temperament? And are there differences between chocolate Labs, yellow Labs, and black Labs? Science has the answers.



By Zazie Todd, PhD

It’s often said there are personality differences between Labrador Retrievers bred to show (conformation dogs) and those bred to work (field dogs). And chocolate labs have a reputation for being different than black labs and yellow labs. Is it true?

Research by Sarah Lofgren et al (Royal (Dick) Veterinary School, University of Edinburgh) investigates.

The American Kennel Club describes the temperament of the Labrador Retriever as friendly, active, and outgoing. Labrador Retrievers are in the Sporting group. The AKC says,
"Labs are famously friendly. They are companionable housemates who bond with the whole family, and they socialize well with neighbor dogs and humans alike. But don’t mistake his easygoing personality for low energy: The Lab is an enthusiastic athlete that requires lots of exercise, like swimm…

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

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Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.



By Zazie Todd, PhD

Research by Michelle Lem et al (University of Guelph) asks homeless young people (aged 18-24) what their pet means to them. Previous studies have focussed on the benefits to homeless people of owning a dog or cat. The aim of this study was to get a balanced picture of both the advantages and disadvantages. 
Ten homeless young people took part in in-depth interviews about their pet. 8 of them had a dog, and 2 had a cat but had previously had a dog whilst homeless. Most lived on the street or in a vulnerable housing situation (squatting/couch-surfing), and three had found stable housing.
The main theme to emerge was that of putting the animal first. Everyone in the study said they put their pet first, even if this meant suffering hardship themselves. For example, they would not take up housing if they could not bring the animal with them. This shows the value they place on the companionshi…

The Surprising History of Veterinary Medicine for Dogs and Cats

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And the ‘dangerous’ woman who played a vital role.


By Zazie Todd, PhD

We are used to the idea that veterinarians treat dogs, cats, rabbits and other small animals, but it wasn’t always so. Before the automobile, the main role for vets was in the treatment of horses. As the number of horses declined, two British government reports (in 1938 and 1944) suggested vets should specialize in the treatment of farm animals. 
The change to small animals is often explained as due to increasing standards of living and people’s desire for companion animals after the Second World War. A new report by Andrew Gardiner of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies (University of Edinburgh) shows the real reason is the rise of animal charities, and the role of one woman in particular: Maria Dickin.
It’s a tale of politics and intrigue. Gardiner says that in the period between the two wars, “a new territory of animal care was opening up. By the time the veterinary profession realized that things were m…

What Encourages People to Walk Their Dog?

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And is dog-walking a good way to persuade people to take more exercise?


By Zazie Todd, PhD

We know that most people do not get the 150 minutes of exercise per week that is recommended. Could encouraging people to walk their dogs more often help, and if so, how best to go about it? A new paper by Carri Westgarth et al (2014) of the University of Liverpool reviews the state of current research.
Although to some dog owners a daily walk is an essential part of the routine, there are also people who never walk their dog. For example, a 2008 study in Australia (Cutt et al 2008) found that on average people walk their dog four times a week for a total of 134 minutes, and that 23% of dog owners never walk their dog. 
Encouraging more people to take their dog for a regular walk would be good for both the dog and owner.
The research found that as well dog-related and owner-related variables, aspects of the physical and social environment also influence dog walking behaviour.
The dog’s size, age …

What Influences Whether Owners Pick Up After Their Dog?

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What’s the scoop on picking up poop? New research by Christopher Lowe et al (2014) investigates.


By Zazie Todd, PhD

The study consisted of an environmental survey of several popular dog walking locations, and an online survey that was completed by 933 participants from across the UK (83% were women).
Eight footpaths in Lancashire, in the north of England, were visited in March/April 2010 to check for dog waste. This included a mix of urban and rural locations, and covered the path as well as about 3m either side. A tow path along the canal had 40 dog poos in the space of 25m; at a nature reserve, a path by a railway embankment had a wall along it with a pile of bagged dog faeces on the other side. On a footpath at a reservoir, the researchers found 269 bags of dog waste in 1000m.
The presence or absence of suitable receptacles for bags is not the whole picture, as one path with no trash cans or dog waste bins had very low levels of faeces. In order to understand more about this, the re…

Does Your Cat Sniff New Food?

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New research investigates which feline behaviours show that cats find food tasty.


By Zazie Todd, PhD

There are certain things we can take for granted when feeding the cat: the pitiful miaows that become increasingly strident, the anticipatory purring when you move towards the cat food, and the way the cat wraps herself around your leg as if you’re her best friend ever. But when you put the food down, is there any guarantee she will eat it? 
Cat food manufacturers have teams of cats that work as food testers, to make sure new foods are as tasty as can be. This study, by Aurélie Becques et al (in press) took place at the Panelis Diana Pet Food Division. Here, cats are housed in groups in an indoor environment with access to the outdoors. Two such groups of cats (17 cats in total) took part in this study.
The cats are given free access to kibble for twenty hours of the day, to mimic the most common way of feeding cats in the home. They are fed via a feeding station, which only one cat c…