Going for a Song? The Price of Pet Birds

The price of birds for sale in pet stores in Taiwan sheds light on legal (and illegal) trade, with consequences for native wildlife. 

By Zazie Todd, PhD

A new study by Su Shan (Institute of Zoology) et al investigates the birds for sale in pet shops in Taiwan, and the factors that affect their price. 
Taiwan is an interesting place to study birds. Songbirds are kept for singing competitions, and there is a tradition of taking caged birds out for a walk (‘bird walking’). As in other Asian countries, birds and other animals are set free in order to make merit (prayer release), potentially adding significantly to the numbers of alien birds living wild. There is a lot of trade with other Asian countries, and some birds have been obtained illegally. 

The price of the birds is a measure of the market, because easily-obtained birds are assumed to be cheaper. The bird trade is very lucrative in Asia and checking the price is one way to find out which birds are being bought and sold. 

The authors s…

Emergency Planning Is For Pets Too

Failure to include pets in emergency planning puts human lives at risk.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

“There is no other factor contributing as much to human evacuation failure in disasters that is under the control of emergency management when a threat is imminent as pet ownership.” So say Sebastian Heath (FEMA) and Robert Linnabary (University of Tennessee) in a review of the ways in which pets should be included in emergency planning. 
Emergency management has five stages: planning, preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery. It is important to include pets at all stages so that people with pets are more likely to evacuate if necessary. The human-animal bond can also encourage people to prepare for disasters, since they may be motivated to plan for their pet even if not for themselves.
Strong emergency planning also entails having a good start point, which is not currently the case for animals in the US. Shelters and rescues struggle to cope with the existing number of strays and unwanted pe…

A Short Break

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Isn’t this the prettiest kitten? Ragdoll cats are said to be especially good with children, and it’s certainly the case that the Ragdolls of my acquaintance are friendly to people of all ages.
I’m taking a short break from the blog but will be back next week. See you then.
Photo: cath5 /

Where Do People Get Information About Dog Training?

Can people be blamed for dog training mistakes when there is so much erroneous information out there?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Recently I saw a man walking a German Shepherd. Even from a distance it was clear the dog was nervous: his posture was low to the ground and the way he was walking made me wonder what kind of equipment he was on. As I waited at the traffic lights, I got a chance to see: a prong collar, tight, positioned high on his neck.
There are easy alternatives, the simplest being a no-pull harness. I began to wonder: did the man not know there were other approaches? Did he not want to invest time in training loose-leash walking? Or did he think it looks good to have a big dog on a prong collar?
While I don’t know his line of reasoning, we do know something about sources of training information. A recent survey of canine behavioural problems by Pirrone et al (2015) in Italy included a question about where people got information on dog training. 55% of respondents gave the answer, ‘m…

Pets: Building Community One Friend at a Time

Even indoor pets help us get to know other people, according to new research in four cities in the US and Australia.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

It’s easy to see how people who regularly walk their dog can get to know others. They might strike up friendly conversations about dogs, or learn to avoid certain people because of the way their off-leash dog charges up with unwanted “friendly” advances. It’s less obvious for people who don’t walk their dogs, or who have pets that are always indoors. But a new study by researchers at the University of Western Australia and Harvard University finds that pets are an important way of getting to know and make friends with other people.
Lead author Lisa Wood told me in an email, 
“There is growing evidence that social isolation, loneliness and lack of social support are common issues in today's cities and suburbs, and these can take a negative toll on our health and wellbeing. Companion animals can however be an antidote to this, as they often create oppor…

6 Reasons to Love Canine Science

Recent years have seen a blossoming of the field of canine science. Here are some reasons to love it.

By Zazie Todd, PhDBecause dogs are amazing, and science proves it!

We love our dogs, and fMRI studies show how important people are to dogs (their caudate lights up on smelling a familiar human, Berns et al 2014). Dogs can learn to follow pointing gestures,will try to comfort a crying stranger and respond to the sound of a baby crying. Chaser the border collie knows 1000 words. And we mustn’t forget how amazing the dog’s nose is (part of a series of four by Julie Hecht). Canine science even studies how dog's close relations, hand-reared wolves interact with humans (Gácsi et al 2013) and even get attached to them (Hall et al 2015).

It helps us train our dogs better
Dog training relies on well-established techniques of operantand classical conditioning, but more recent research specific to dogs and their owners can also help improve our training technique. Many studies show an associati…