Posts

Picking a New Dog is a Complex Choice

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It’s not a case of ‘any puppy will do’ - the whole package counts.


Surprisingly little is known about how people choose a new dog considering how popular they are. While it’s a personal choice, it has wider implications – humane societies would really like to know how to increase adoptions from shelters and decrease purchases from puppy mills. Could relocation programs, where dogs are brought in from out of town, be part of the solution?
A new paper by Laurie Garrison and Emily Weiss (ASPCA) surveyed 1009 people who had either acquired a dog in the last year or were planning to get a dog. People were shown fake profiles of dogs and asked to say how likely they would be to choose it.

The results showed people take many factors into account, and while specific details are important – such as wanting a puppy and not wanting a senior – they can be mitigated by other aspects of the dog.
The authors say, “People considered the entire set of features and made trade-offs based on the combinat…

The Companion Animal Science Story of the Year?

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Dogs love learning. Eureka!




Science Borealis challenged Canadian science bloggers to write about the most important science news of the year in their field. It’s incredibly tough to choose one single study. Every week we cover fascinating research about people’s relationships with their pets, and every one of those studies deserves to be chosen. But there was one paper that really captured our readers’ imagination. It’s one of our most shared stories of the year and it was picked up by the Daily Mail too!
The paper, by Ragen McGowan et al (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), suggests that dogs experience intrinsic motivation when they complete a task. It’s an important finding because the feel-good factormatters for animal welfare. And it mirrors a trend towards positive psychology in humans which aims to find out what makes people happy.
I asked Dr. McGowan about the implications of the research for ordinary pet owners. She said,
“It has long been our impression that our pe…

Learning More About the Canine Victims of Animal Abuse

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New research investigates the effects of abuse on domestic dogs.


The paper, by Franklin D. McMillan (Best Friends Animal Society) et al, looks at the behaviour profiles of 69 dogs with a very strong suspicion of abuse, and compares them to 5,239 pet dogs. The abused dogs scored significantly higher on various problem behaviours including aggression and fear to unfamiliar people and dogs, attachment problems, attention-seeking, and repetitive behaviours. At the same time, there was no single profile that reflected all abused dogs.
The research is an important first step in understanding the effects of abuse on domestic dogs. The scientists say, “Animal abuse is a world-wide problem causing an incalculable degree of animal suffering. A better understanding of the characteristics of abused animals is essential for developing the most effective interventions at every chronological point: before, during (in cases of chronic abuse), and after the abuse occurs.”
Dogs may be affected differen…

Does Playtime for Cats Reduce Behaviour Problems?

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Does few toys and no play equal issues with your cat?




A new survey of cat owners by Beth Strickler and Elizabeth Shull investigates how many toys the average cat has, how often their owner plays with them, and whether there is a link with behaviour problems.

Since behaviour problems are a common reason for cats to be surrendered to shelters and so many cats are euthanized every year, it’s important to understand how meeting the behavioural needs of cats can lead to fewer behaviour problems.

Providing toys and opportunities for play is one of the five pillars of a healthy environment for cats, according to the International Society of Feline Medicine and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (Ellis et al 2013).


Play should allow the cat to mimic different aspects of predation. Toys and play are especially important as enrichment for indoor cats. Of the cats in this study, 61% were indoors-only cats who never go outside. The remainder of the cats spent some time indoors and s…

Are Dogs Good for Our Health?

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We’re used to reading that they are, but it’s more complicated than you think.


A new study by González Ramírez and Landero Hernández in Mexico compares dog-owners with non-dog-owners to find out whether or not dogs are beneficial to people’s health and well-being. They wanted to improve on the design of many previous studies by comparing two groups of people who were similar except for the fact that some owned dogs and some did not.
There are several reasons why pets might be good for us. It could be that we have an instinctive bond with nature, and so the company of animals lowers stress and makes us feel better. This is the biophilia hypothesis, which also says we have an especial liking for baby-faced animals, which has an evolutionary advantage. An alternative idea is that animals provide social support themselves and also encourage interactions with other people, thus making us less lonely and helping us to have better mental health.
602 people took part and answered a set of que…

Should Pets be Included in Emergency Planning?

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And can they help vulnerable people be more resilient?

A new paper by Thompson et al (2014) in Australia considers how pets can be incorporated into planning for emergencies such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and forest fires. It can quite literally be a matter of life and death. For example, they say, “over 8% of flood-related fatalities in Australia from 1788 to September 1996 resulted from people’s attempts to save ‘stock, property or pets’ – even when the animal or pet was not their own.” 
People sometimes risk their lives in an emergency because they do not want to leave their pets behind. If someone refuses to evacuate because they cannot bring their dog or cat, their life may be at risk, as well as the lives of emergency responders. It’s not just pets – sometimes people are motivated to risk their own lives to try and protect farm animals or wildlife.
The question posed by the paper is, given we know animals are a risk factor in an emergency, is it possible instead for ani…

How Many Dogs is Enough for Canine Science?

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And does it matter which dogs they are?


The number of dogs that take part in each research study is variable. Often, the sample size is small, because of the difficulty of recruiting dogs and their owners. And while scientists know how many are needed for statistical analysis, there are other things to take into account too.
For example, breed may or may not be relevant. If only ten dogs take part in a study and they are all Australian Shepherds, the results may not be the same as if they were all Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. 
There are 180 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. Studies can’t possibly include them all, and then there are mixed breeds to consider too. Some researchers get round this by grouping dogs according to breed type (e.g. toy, working), and trying to include some of each. Scientific papers usually report the breed(s) of dog that took part, along with other variables that could potentially influence results, such as whether or not the dogs were neutere…