Most Owners Say Cats Are Part Of The Family

Most cat owners are confident in their ability to look after their pet, but feline welfare could be better in some respects.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

New research by Tiffani Howell(La Trobe University) et al investigates how people care for their cats. A representative survey of pet owners in the Australian state of Victoria included questions from feeding and sleeping arrangements to how much cats cost over their lifetime.
“In general, Victorian cat owners appear to be meeting their cat’s welfare needs, with a few areas for improvement,” says Dr. Tiffani Howell. “For instance, nearly half of owners allow their cat to roam free outdoors, which could lead to injuries. 
“Female owners report higher levels of satisfaction with their cat’s behaviour, and fewer behavioural problems, than male owners. Older owners were less likely to have irretrievably lost a cat than younger owners, but they report more behavioural problems.”
There are some fascinating facts in the survey. Most people are confident t…

Homeless Youth With Pets Are Less Depressed Than Those Without

A survey of homeless youth finds that pets bring benefits – and difficulties.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

23% of homeless youth have pets, according to research by Harmony Rhoades et al (University of Southern California). The team surveyed 398 homeless youth at two drop-in centres in Los Angeles. While previous studies have shown that pets can be very important to homeless young people, this is the first quantitative study to look at pet ownership, mental health, and the use of services amongst this group.
88% of the young people in the study had attended the drop-in for food during the previous month. Other services they had used included clothes (69%), job help (52%), housing (49%) and health services (47%). Of those with pets, dogs were most common (53%) followed by cats (22%). Other pets included a hamster, rat, chinchilla and iguana. 
“Companion animals provide emotional support and represent important, loving relationships in the lives of many homeless youth,” say the authors. 
Pet owners ha…

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…