A Conversation with Mia Cobb

On Wednesday I covered Mia Cobb’s new paper on working dogs and canine performance science. Mia's research has the potential to have a big impact on the lives of working dogs. She kindly agreed to talk to me about working dogs, animal welfare, and her new puppy Rudy.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

How can we improve the training of working dogs?
One of the key things that would help to improve the success rates of trainee working dogs would be wider recognition of the sum of all the parts that make a successful working dog. It’s not just the training methods used, it’s not just the genetics, it’s also the socialization and puppy raising process, the diet and health management, it’s the way dogs are housed, the human and canine company they keep, the opportunities they have for rest and play as well as learn, that is relevant to a successful working dog. 
It can be easy for both scientists and practitioners to focus on just one element of the process – like breeding for sound health, or training…

How Can We Improve Working Dog Programs?

A new paper suggests ways to develop the welfare and performance of working canines.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Have you ever stopped to think about the amazing variety of jobs that dogs do: herding sheep, chasing criminals, sniffing out cancer, assisting people with disabilities, supporting the military in the field, detecting explosives or narcotics, visiting sick people in hospital, pulling sleds, search and rescue, and so on. They bring a wide variety of skills, and work in diverse locations from cities to forests, mountains and farms. Yet there is no one body that investigates and evaluates the training and welfare of working dogs.
A new paper by Mia Cobb (Monash University) et al examines the role of working dogs and proposes a new canine performance science. Just as human athletes benefit from performance science, the same could be true for our canine friends. There’s a financial imperative too; for example, training an assistance dog can cost up to $50k. 
Each working dog organization …

Do Dogs Prefer Petting or Praise?

A new study asks dogs to make the choice.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

A lot of people like to think they can reinforce their dog with verbal praise such as “Good girl!” But does it mean anything to the dog?

We know that, given a choice, dogs prefer food over petting or praise (Feuerbacher and Wynne 2012; Fukuzawa and Hayashi 2013; Okamoto et al 2009), and this is why food is so useful in dog training. A new study by Erica Feuerbacher (Carroll College) and Clive Wynne (Arizona State University) takes food out of the equation and investigates whether dogs prefer petting or verbal praise.
In a series of two experiments, shelter dogs and owned dogs were given a choice between petting and praise. The results showed that dogs prefer petting. Now before you say this is not surprising, remember we just said many owners expect their dog to be obedient in exchange for a simple “Good boy!” It doesn’t sound like such a good deal from the dog’s point of view, does it? 
In the second experiment, the scientis…

Do Hand-Reared Wolves get Attached to their Humans?

Researchers test the bond between captive wolf pups and the humans who rear them.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

We all think our dogs form attachments to us, but previous studies with wolf pups have suggested they don’t attach to their caregiver in the same way. While a 16-week old puppy is already attached to its owner, scientists found the same is not true of a 16-week old wolf. However, the way the wolf pup is raised and the age of testing may have an effect. New research by Nathaniel Hall (University of Florida) et al investigates. The results show wolf pups can form attachments to humans after all.
Ten wolf pups from two litters took part in the study (although one pup was ill and not able to take part in all of the tests). From the age of 10 days old, the wolves were raised by two humans who were with them round the clock until 1.5 – 2 months. After this, the caregivers were present 16 hours a day. The research took place at Wolf Park in Battle Ground, Indiana.
In children, attachment is te…

Does It Matter What Age You Neuter Your Kitten?

What science - and vets - say about early vs normal age spay/neuter for kittens.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

What is the best age to get your kitten spayed or neutered? For most pet owners, is recommended to spay/neuter kittens by 5 months of age, in order to prevent unwanted litters, according to the American Animal Hospitals Association.

There are so many cats without homes that some shelters neuter kittens early, at 8 – 12 weeks old, so they are neutered prior to adoption. This is the only way they can guarantee that a kitten will be neutered. These days, the early neutering of kittens from 6 - 14 weeks old is supported by organizations such as the American Association of Feline Practitioners (many vets set a weight limit of at least 1kg).

In the past, cats were normally neutered at 6 – 8 months old. But even kittens can have kittens, so this does not prevent unwanted litters. It comes as a surprise to many people that even a 4-month old kitten can have kittens.

Kittens, like puppies, have a…

The Posts of the Year 2014

By Zazie Todd, PhD

We wish all our readers a happy and healthy 2015!

These are our most-read posts of the year. There's been a lot of competition at the top of this chart! Which stories were your favourites? And which topics would you like to read more about in future? Please let us know by leaving a comment below, or on twitter or facebook.

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

New fMRI research shows that the smell of a familiar person elicits a strong response in the canine brain.

2. Do Dogs get that Eureka! Feeling?

Does successful problem-solving make dogs happy? Research by McGowan et al investigates if dogs prefer their rewards to be earned. This post was our Companion Animal Science News of the Year for the Science Borealis Blog Carnival.

3. Dog Training, Animal Welfare and the Human-Canine Relationship

Observations of dogs at training classes using either positive reinforcement or punishment support the idea that using rewards in traini…

Season's Greetings


Season's Greetings from Companion Animal Psychology Blog! We wish you Happy Holidays and all the best for a wonderful 2015.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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