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Companion Animal Psychology Book Club: March 2017

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The book of the month is Being a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz.



By Zazie Todd, PhD

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The book for March 2017 is Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell by Alexandra Horowitz.

From the inside cover, "To a dog, there is no such thing as "fresh air." Every breath is full of information. Dogs, when trained, can identify drugs of every type, underwater cadavers, cancer, illicit cell phones in prison, bedbugs, smuggled shark's fins, dry rot, land mines, termites, invasive knapweed, underground truffles, and dairy cows in estrus. But they also know about the upcoming weather, earthquakes before they happen, how "afternoon" smells, what you had for breakfast, and whether a cat touched your leg yesterday."

Join us in the book club for the discussion, leave your thoughts on the book in comments on the blog, or just enjoy reading alongside us.

The Companion Animal Psychology Book Club reads ten books a year about animals …

What kind of scratching post do cats prefer?

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It’s important to provide cats with the right kind of scratching post – and reward them for using it.



By Zazie Todd, PhD

Inappropriate scratching is a fairly common complaint about cats. That’s inappropriate from the owner’s perspective, because from the cat’s point of view they are just doing what comes naturally. Luckily research can tell us what the best scratching post is from a cat's perspective.

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Why do cats scratch?
Cats scratch in order to mark their territory. It leaves a visual signal to other cats, as well as scent from glands in their paws. Scratching may also help them look after their claws, since it can remove old claw sheaths. Cats stretch out their claws and front legs when they scratch.

Cats like to scratch repeatedly in the same place, and if the place they choose is your furniture, that’s not so good for the furniture.



What kind of scratching post do cats like?
Research by Colleen Wilson DVM et al tells us what kind of scratchin…

Irresistible: Emotions affect choice of breed despite welfare issues

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Knowing a breed of dog may have health problems does not stop people from wanting one, because emotions get in the way. 


By Zazie Todd, PhD

A new Danish study by Peter S Sandøe (University of Copenhagen) et al investigates the reasons why people acquire particular small breeds of dog and how attached the owners feel to their pet. The research helps explain why some breeds are popular despite a high incidence of welfare problems. 
The study looked at people in Denmark with French Bulldogs, Chihuahuas, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Cairn Terriers.
The results suggest that even knowing a dog of a particular breed is likely to have health problems may not stop people from getting one, because of their emotional response to the breed. 
Lead author, Peter Sandøe told me in an email, “In all, this study prompts the conclusion that the apparent paradox of people who love their dogs continuing to acquire dogs from breeds with breed-related welfare problems may not be perceived as a parad…

The Function of Play Bows in Dog and Wolf Puppies

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New research casts doubt on an old explanation for the play bow – and suggests it’s all about more play.



By Zazie Todd, PhD

The play bow is a glorious signal in dogs. The bum goes up and the elbows go down, leaving the rear end sticking up, usually accompanied by a lovely happy face (as pictured above). Not just reserved for other dogs, our canine friends will play bow to us too.

Traditionally, it was believed that the play bow serves as a signal to say something like, “I’m just playing, it’s not real!”, because many of the behaviours dogs perform in play – chasing, growling, biting, nipping, etc – can also be aggressive. But recent research with adult dogs has thrown that into question.

In 2016, Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere (University of Michigan), Julia Espinosa and Barbara Smuts looked at play bows between adult dogs. If the play bow functions to say “I’m only playing!” then you would expect to see more ‘offensive’ behaviour that could potentially be misinterpreted either just before o…

Companion Animal Psychology News February 2017

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




By Zazie Todd, PhD
Some of my favourite posts from around the web this month
"Cats, on the other hand get a raw deal. Especially stray ones." Our cat in Havana by Will Grant.

Memory wins when dogs sleep. Julie Hecht on how sleep helps learning in dogs.

"I will never forget the first time a patient died at the clinic." Compassion fatigue, secondary trauma and burnout in the animal care profession by Dr. Vanessa Rohlf.

Opening the heart's floodgates, with a paw. Beautiful piece by Amy Sutherland about match-making people and dogs at a shelter.

The need for transparency in training and behaviour. Daniel Antolec writing for the Pet Professional Guild blog about the problem of false representations in the dog training and animal behaviour industry.

I can’t control neurodegeneration: on acceptance and letting go. Maureen Backman’s diary of life with her senior dog Earl.

International Cat Care

"Dominance" Training Deprives Dogs of Positive Experiences

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Dominance is an outdated approach to dog training – and it also means dogs miss out on fun.



By Zazie Todd, PhD

Approaches to dog training based on dominance rely on the idea that you have to be the ‘alpha’ or pack leader. Unfortunately, this type of dog training is not just out-of-date and potentially risky, but modern approaches to dog training are also a lot more fun – for you and the dog.


What is dominance in dog training?
We sometimes hear the phrase ‘my dog is being dominant.’ ‘Your dog is being dominant’ can even be an insult because it implies you are not confident enough.

What people mean by ‘dominant’ can be anything from your dog walking through a door in front of you, to jumping on you, or relaxing on the sofa, growling at you or winning a game of tug. For that reason alone, it’s not a very helpful description.

Let’s unpack these examples for a moment, because using a framework of dominance is taking away the person’s choice about things. It’s perfectly fine for your dog to …

Happy Dogs: Photos

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Gorgeous photos of happy dogs. By Zazie Todd, PhD


"Belle is full of sparkle!  Her favorite treat is without a doubt string cheese... Her best trick is she brings in the paper every morning and takes it right to her bed then gives it to us, and she also does a lovely bow that we call "tada"!"
Belle has her CGC and is a service dog and a Pet Partner's Therapy dog.
Photo: Heidi Steinbeck.




"Lola loooves any food but freaks over prosciutto or smoked salmon."
Photo: Claudine Prud'homme.





"Turtle will do almost anything you ask him for any piece of food you give. Some of his favourites are carrots, hotdogs and peanut butter. He is very food motivated.  Turtle's favourite thing to do is sit on the couch with the people he loves, and of course just looking handsome."
Photo: Charity Long.




"Howard's favourite treat is tuna fudge, and his favourite trick is waving hello."
Photo: Jennifer Phillips.




"Foxxy loves to train and lear…