Companion Animal Psychology Book Club: February 2017

The book of the month is Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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The Companion Animal Psychology Book Club continues with discussion of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal.

From the inside, "Frans de Waal explores both the scope and the depth of animal intelligence. He offers a first-hand account of how science has stood traditional behaviourism on its head by revealing how smart animals really are, and how we've underestimated their abilities for so long."

Towards the end of the month, I will post my thoughts about the book. You will be able to leave your own thoughts on the book in the comments section.

Through the book club, we will learn more about companion animals and our relationship with them, and build up a nice library of books about animals and the human-animal bond. Of course, we'll also enjoy talking about the books.

Are you reading too?


What is Positive Reinforcement in Dog Training?

A user-friendly guide to everything you need to know about positive reinforcement in dog training.

If you are new to dogs, or new to dog training, this article on positive reinforcement is for you. It covers technical definitions, the practicalities, reasons to use positive reinforcement and some common mistakes that people make.

At the end, there are suggested resources in case you want to learn more. Positive reinforcement training is fun, and lots of people get the training bug. Hopefully that will include you too.

When people talk about positive reinforcement dog training, they sometimes refer to it as positive dog training, force free dog training, clicker training, even science-based dog training. Some of these terms relate to a wider dog training philosophy as well as a specific method, and those philosophical and ethical issues are important. But positive reinforcement is also a technical term with a specific definition.

We’ll get the technical definition out of the way firs…

The Secret History of Kindness: Companion Animal Psychology Book Club

The book for December was The Secret History of Kindness: Learning from how dogs learn by Melissa Holbrook Pierson.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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The Secret History of Kindness: Learning from How Dogs Learn is a history of clicker training, from B.F. Skinner’s studies of operant conditioning and the development of the field of behaviourism through to present day dog training.

It covers Skinner’s rise and fall within Psychology, including the devastating effect of Chomsky’s review of Skinner's book Verbal Behaviour. It also details the work of Marian and Keller Breland via Animal Behavior Enterprises, Bob Bailey, Karen Pryor, Jean Donaldson, and the author’s own experiences of attending Clicker Expo.

Interwoven through the history are stories about Pierson’s own dogs, and what it was like to learn to live with them and train them. She is a fine writer and I enjoyed these stories very much.

For someone who espouses positive reinforcement, Pierson somehow fails …

The Importance of Science in Horse Training

Horse ‘licking and chewing’: is it a sign of learning, submission or stress?

Guest post by Georgina (Gina) Bishopp (Hartpury College, UK).

 A little while ago I was having a lesson on my horse when my instructor beamed up at me and exclaimed, “There you go, she is licking and chewing – she’s really listening to you now, keep going!” and with excitement I continued on eagerly with the exercise we were practising. It wasn’t until the exhilaration of the moment had waned did I think to myself, is licking and chewing really a sign of learning?

In the equine industry, or for a more realistic term, the equine world (to encompass both professionals, private owners and recreational riders) there is no set way of interpreting a horse’s behaviour. Truly there are no black and whites in horse ownership or training or even riding. Unfortunately, negative reinforcement and positive punishment are the traditional methods utilised for training horses, alongside habituation, desensitisation and, sadly…

Companion Animal Psychology News January 2017

The latest news on cats and dogs from Companion Animal Psychology, January 2017.

By Zazie Todd, PhD
Some of my favourite posts from around the web this month:
“When your husband is having chemotherapy and you're under pressure at work you really don't need anything to go wrong. Like the cat getting stuck - really stuck - on the roof." Cat on a cold tiled roof by Sue Elliot-Nicholls.

"Dog training is a divided profession." Talk softly and carry a carrot not a stick by Jean Donaldson (The Academy for Dog Trainers), a very topical post given proposals to regulate dog training in New York.

The hidden role of pets in the management of mental health conditions by Dr. Helen Brooks. A fascinating account of this research on the various ways pets can help.

"Dogs are like turkeys in one important way: They love to gobble." In Train your dog to resist temptation in four easy stepsKristi Benson explains how to teach “leave it.”

“...upon closer inspection, dogs oft…

Finding Out if Dogs Like Cats - Or Not

A new study investigates the best way to find out if a dog will get on with cats.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

When dogs are waiting for adoption at a shelter, a common question is “what is the dog like with cats?” But at the moment there’s no validated way to test dogs to see if they will be friendly to cats.

Some dogs become good friends with cats, but other dogs want to chase and kill them, so it would really help if shelters knew if a dog is cat-friendly.

Sometimes the person who surrenders a dog will provide information, but typically this isn’t available. So staff may walk the dog past one of the shelter cats to see how it responds. This is potentially very stressful for the cat, and we don’t know if the dog’s response is typical of how it would behave away from the shelter environment.

A new study by Dr. Christy Hoffman (Canisius College) et al sets out to investigate what a cat-friendliness assessment might look like. They tested pet dogs with a realistic-looking cat doll, recordings of c…

The Five Domains Model Aims to Help Animals Thrive

An updated approach to animal welfare includes opportunities for positive experiences for our companion (and other) animals.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

“…the overall objective is to provide opportunities for animals to ‘thrive’, not simply ‘survive’” (Mellor, 2016)

The Five Freedoms Animal welfare is traditionally defined by the Five Freedoms. These are
Freedom from hunger and thirstFreedom from discomfortFreedom from pain, injury and diseaseFreedom to express normal behaviourFreedom from fear and distress The original list is on the – now archived – page of the UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Council and the Council’s 2009 report on farm animal welfare in Great Britain. You will also find them listed on many SPCA and humane society websites, including by the BC SPCA and the ASPCA, because the Five Freedoms frame how they look after the animals in their care.

The Five Freedoms have defined animal welfare internationally, not just for farmed animals but also for our companion animals. Each of the Freed…