Shelter Dogs Live Up To Expectations (Mostly)

Testing behaviour in the shelter is tricky, but most people who adopt a dog would do so again. 

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Animal shelters often assess the behaviour of dogs before rehoming them, but because the tests are not always scientifically validated, Mornement et al (2014) developed the B.A.R.K. protocol. Results of the B.A.R.K. on 74 shelter dogs successfully predicted in-home ratings for fear and friendliness after the dogs had been adopted, but not anxiety, activity level or compliance. A follow-up paper by Kate Mornement (Monash University; Pets Behaving Badly) et al takes a closer look at how the shelter assessment compares to new owners’ ratings about four months after adoption.
First, the good news. All the new owners said their dog was part of the family, 96% said their new dog adapted to their home well or very well, and 71% said the dog met their expectations. Most dogs were friendly to visitors, and the most common occurrence of most behaviour problems was “never”, including f…

Finding out if shelter dogs are friendly: testing the B.A.R.K. protocol

Research shows the challenges of assessing behaviour in shelter dogs.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

We know our pets well. My dog Bodger is bouncy and friendly; he sits to be patted, then jumps up with a surreptitious kiss; he likes zucchini and hates thunder. We form these observations through time spent with our dogs. But at animal shelters it’s not so easy. How do you assess the temperament of a dog you’ve only just met?
Research by Kate Mornement (Monash University; Pets Behaving Badly) et al investigates this problem. Many shelters in Australia (and elsewhere) use assessments that are not scientifically validated, so the team set out to develop and assess a new test of canine behaviour. Such tests are often used to make decisions about whether or not dogs are adoptable, but the results show they may not be as useful as people think.
The scientists looked at tests already in use, convened a focus group of relevant experts, and developed the behavioural assessment for rehoming K9s (B.A.R.K.). It …

How Audiobooks Can Help Shelter Dogs

New research shows listening to audiobooks can help dogs waiting for adoption.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Imagine how it must feel to be a dog at a shelter, taken from your normal environment for reasons you don’t understand, with unfamiliar smells and noises, including other dogs barking. Could the sounds of music or a person reading help? A new study by Clarissa Brayley and Tamara Montrose (Hartpury Animal Behaviour College) tests audiobooks and music to see if they calm the dogs, and finds beneficial results from audiobooks.
The study compared an audiobook – specifically Michael York reading C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – to classical music (The Best of Beethoven), pop music (Now 88), specially-designed dog music (Through a Dog’s Ear), and a control condition of no added sound.
“Shelters frequently are stressful environments for dogs,” says Dr. Tamara Montrose, “and any reduction of this stress is beneficial for their welfare. In our study we found that audio-books enhanced…

Make a Difference on Shock Collars

Scots and Canadians have the chance to support controls on electronic collars.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Electronic collars for dogs and cats are already banned in many jurisdictions (including Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland,Wales, Quebec, and parts of Australia). Now, people in Scotland and Canada have the chance to let their governments know how they feel. Please support these campaigns to ban shock collars by taking part and sharing with friends and family.
The Scottish Government consultation, “potential controls or prohibition of electronic training aids in Scotland”, is open for comment until 29th January 2016. The website says, “This consultation seeks views on whether some or all electronic training aids should be subject to tighter controls in Scotland or whether they should be banned outright. It also seeks evidence to support these views.” 
In Canada, the first ever e-petition to Parliament is to ban shock collars (sponsored by Kennedy Stewart, MP for…

The Posts of the Year 2015

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Happy New Year! Good health and happiness to all our readers in 2016.

These were the top posts of 2015. Which were your favourite? And what would you like to see covered here in 2016?

1. Different dog breeds, different sensitive period?

A study of three breeds finds differences in the sensitive period, and shows socialization should begin before you even take your puppy home. - See more at: A study of three breeds finds differences in the sensitive period, and shows socialization should begin before you even take your puppy home.

2. Re-arranging metaphors for dogs

The problems with the wolf pack metaphor go deeper than you think.

3. What do young children learn from pets?

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

4. Where do cats like to be stroked?

People expect cats to enjoy affection, but what's the c…

Season's Greetings!

Happy Holidays and a very Happy New Year to all our readers from Companion Animal Psychology.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. She is the founder of the popular blog Companion Animal Psychology, where she writes about everything from training methods to the human-canine relationship. She also writes a column for Psychology Today and has received the prestigious Captain Haggerty Award for Best Training Article in 2017. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband and two cats.
Useful links: Check out what the Animal Book Club is reading this monthGet Companion Animal Psychology merchSupport me on Ko-fiVisit my Amazon storeAs an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. As an Etsy affiliate, I earn from qualifying Etsy purchases.

Make Your Dog Happy: How to Choose a Puppy Class!

Why you should go to puppy class, what to look for in a class, and why it could be the best investment you make in your dog.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Puppy classes provide important socialization opportunities and early learning experiences for puppies up to 5 months old. Puppy class is not just about training, it’s also (even mostly) about socialization.
Puppy Class and  Socialization Socialization matters because dogs go through a developmental stage when happy, positive experiences with new people, dogs and things are important, and help to set them up to be happy, calm adult dogs. We know this because studies that kept puppies in isolation (e.g. Freedman, King and Elliot 1961) found they became very fearful.
Many dog trainers have socialization checklists, like this one from the late Dr. Sophia Yin that includes unfamiliar people and dogs, body handling, surfaces and sounds to which puppies should be socialized. 
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We don’t know exactly when the sensitive peri…