Can Street Dogs Become Good Pets?

From free-ranging dog to new home. It sounds like a fairy-tale, but how does it work out?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

A recent survey by Yasemin Salgiri Demirbas (Ankara University) et al investigates how well free-roaming urban dogs fit into a family home once they are adopted. The results show the dogs adapt well to their new homes.
The scientists say, “Every year in Turkey, thousands of free-ranging dogs are brought to dog shelters. These dogs are mongrel dogs with stray origins.” There is often a bias against adopting dogs that have been stray in case they have behaviour problems, and they can spend a long time waiting for a home. The researchers wanted to know if people’s misgivings are well-founded.
75 homes that had adopted a free-ranging dog completed the survey. Some dogs came from a shelter or vet, but others were picked up on the street. This, they explain, “may be because of the pattern where in developing countries such as Turkey people encounter free-ranging dogs in everyday life, so…

The Right to Walk Away

What can pet owners learn from the way scientists give animals choices in research?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

When people take part in research, scientists must ensure they give informed consent. When the participants are pets, owners give consent on their behalf: they understand the risks of the research and they have the right to end their participation at any time (e.g. if they feel their dog is stressed). We can’t ask animals about their feelings, but scientists have several ways they give the pets a choice.
In Sarah Ellis et al’s recent (2015) paper on feline stroking preferences, cats were stroked in their own homes by two different people and were free to walk away at any time. 18 out of 34 cats walked away at some point during the first study, and 3 out of 20 in the second study, showing the importance of the choice.
Sometimes scientists offer dogs a piece of food before starting an experiment, or wait for the dog to approach a person or location. Dogs are first given time to get used to…

Where Do Cats Like To Be Stroked?

People expect cats to enjoy affection, but what’s the cat’s opinion? Research shows where cats prefer to be petted.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Research by Dr. Sarah Ellis (University of Lincoln) et al investigated how cats respond to being stroked by their owner and an unfamiliar person, and which parts of the body they prefer to be petted. The results show cats have definite preferences.
It is thought that animals prefer petting from humans to be similar to the ways animals show affection to members of their own species. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you are expected to lick your cat (affectionate cats often lick each other, something called allo-grooming). But friendly feline behaviour involves certain parts of the body where there are many scent glands: 
around the lips, chin and cheek (peri-oral gland); between the eyes and ears (temporal gland); and around the base of the tail (caudal gland).  When cats rub against each other in these areas, they are transferring scent from one to the other…

Taking Care of your Pet Rabbit

Rabbits are the third most popular pet, but how should you look after them?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

A study by Nicola Rooney (University of Bristol) et al asked 1254 rabbit owners about how they housed, fed, played with and otherwise cared for their rabbit. The good news is that “many pet rabbits were found to be in good health, had compatible companions and were provided with enriched living areas.” But there were also many areas where things could be improved. 
The most common type of rabbit was a Lop, followed by Lionheads, Netherland Dwarfs and mixed breeds. The rabbits were aged 2 to almost 13 years, and most came from a pet store or a garden centre.

Housing for Rabbits
59% of the rabbits lived in a cage or rabbit hutch, and 28% in the house with a cage. 8% lived in an outbuilding, while almost 6% lived in the house without a cage. A handful of rabbits had no roof, but on average the rest of the rabbits had a cage height of 0.9m. 

The good news is that most rabbits had a denning area, some …

Why You Need to Socialize Your Puppy

The importance of socialization can’t be stressed enough. Here's how we know - and what it means for puppy owners.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

These days, more and more people understand that puppies need to be socialized. But sometimes people wonder, how do we know this? It’s based on classic research in canine science.

What does science tell us about the need to socialize puppies? Many papers contribute to our understanding of puppies. In 1950, J.P. Scott and Mary-‘Vesta Marston published a study of 17 litters, including the earliest age at which they opened their eyes for the first time, began to walk, and engaged in play. They hypothesized there were critical periods in canine development. 

In 1959, C.J. Pfaffenberger and J.P. Scott noticed that puppies being raised to be guide dogs were more likely to fail their training if they were kept in kennels for longer and missed some early socialization.
Then in 1961, Daniel Freedman, John King and Orville Elliott published research on puppies in S…

What Do Young Children Learn From Pets?

Is a better understanding of biology something children can learn from dogs and cats?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Young children are very interested in animals. One study even found children aged 11 – 40 months would prefer to look at an animal behind a glass screen (even if the animal is fast asleep) rather than play with a toy (LoBue et al 2013). Now researchers are asking whether this interest in animals means that children with a cat or dog know more about biology than those without.
The study, by Megan Geerdts (University of North Carolina at Greensboro) et al, was in two parts. First of all, the scientists needed to know how preschool children actually interact with cats and dogs. Although this is observed by parents every day, it seems it hasn’t been recorded in enough detail for science. So the researchers observed 24 preschool children in a free-play session with their pet, and asked their parents to complete a questionnaire about their child’s daily experiences with the animal. Then, in…