Companion Animal Psychology Book Club May 2019

“A lovely, big-hearted book…brimming with compassion and the tales of the many, many humans who devote their days to making animals well” (The New York Times).

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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This month, the Companion Animal Psychology book club is reading Animal Madness: Inside Their Minds by Laurel Braitman.

From the back cover,
"Will zoo gorillas laugh if you make faces at them? Can a dog develop Alzheimers? Are some cats as anxious as their owners? Will a parrot feel better on antidepressants? Can a goat cheer up a horse? Laurel Braitman, a historian of science, answers these questions and many more as she takes the reader on a tour of the inner lives of animals, showing the surprising ways their emotional and mental health so often mirrors our own. Animal Madness tells the compelling history of our efforts to make sense of animal minds, from Charles Darwin to today's Harvard psychiatrists' work with gorilla patients. But it also tethers that hist…

In Training, Pay Your Dog with the Food or Foods They Love, Science Says

Should you use your dog's favourite food or a variety of treats as rewards in training? Scientists find it varies, depending on the dog, but in the long term variety is better.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

When training dogs using positive reinforcement, it is important to use good dog training treats in order to motivate the dog. But is it better to use the same food reward every time, or do dogs prefer variety?

A study by Annika Bremhorst (University of Bern) et al, published in Scientific Reports, tested 16 pet dogs to find out if they prefer variety when it comes to reinforcement.

Previous studies have shown that dogs prefer food as a reward compared to petting or praise (see do dogs prefer petting or praise and the importance of food in dog training for summaries of some of these studies). Scientists have also shown that dogs run faster to receive a better quality food reward (sausage compared to kibble).

In this study, dogs were first of all offered three different types of high value …

Eight Ways to Help Your Cat Go to the Vet

If you struggle to take your cat to the vet, here are eight things you can do to help make it less stressful for your cat, including the right way to put them in a carrier.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Everyone knows that cats can find vet visits stressful. In one study, most owners said their cat was stressed at the vet and sometimes for some time after getting home (Mariti et al 2016).

After last week’s post about dogs at the vet, several people asked for tips on taking their cat to the vet.

Here are eight things you can do to help your cat with vet visits.

1. Pick the right kind of cat carrier Picking the right cat carrier is important to ensure you have one that your cat can feel safe inside. One that is too open will mean the cat feels exposed, and one without many entry points can cause struggles when it’s time for your cat to go in.

Choose a cat carrier that:
Is made of sturdy plastic that is washable and easy to cleanHas a lockable door (to keep the cat secure) with holes in (to allow you…

Companion Animal Psychology News April 2019

Cats that fetch, equine therapy, and the joy of dogs... the latest Companion Animal Psychology news.

By Zazie Todd, PhD Some of my favourites this month
“A tongue-in-cheek headline comparing the fetching abilities of cats and dogs revealed a truth known by countless cat owners: Some cats do fetch.” All right, some cats do fetch at NPR by Matthew S Schwartz.

“I’m well aware that it just takes one second for trouble to turn into tragedy. In addition, let’s face it, I tend to be on the neurotic cautious end of the continuum.” Nothing to fear but fear itself by Patricia McConnell.  

Some tips for how to help dogs learn to use dog doors in Help! My dog won’t use the dog door by Sylvie Martin.

“If you’re a puppy parent searching for guidance on how to socialize your puppy, you risk coming across some concerning misinformation, even from professional trainers. “ In defense of puppy socialization by Kelly Lee at the Academy for Dog Trainers.

“All he asked was that we bury you in…

Making Vet Visits Less Stressful is Essential, and Here's What We Can Do to Help Dogs

Why we should monitor dogs for signs of stress at the vet, and the steps dog owners and veterinary professionals can take to help, according to a new review of the literature.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Many people know their dog is afraid of going to the vet. It’s not surprising because a vet visit is very different from the dog’s usual daily experiences, and yet it’s essential for them to get good veterinary care. A new literature review by Petra Edwards (University of Adelaide) et al examines the scientific literature to find out what helps dogs at the vet, and what we still need to know.

Making vet visits less stressful has several benefits, including increasing the likelihood of people actually taking their dog to the vet, making it easier for the vet to make the right diagnosis, and reducing the risk of the vet staff or owner being bitten. In addition, stress is bad for dogs’ physical health, just as it is for people.

Petra Edwards, PhD Candidate and first author of the paper, told me in…

Reasons to Be Positive About Being Positive in Dog Training

Why debunking out-dated ideas can backfire, the importance of spreading quality information, and the best ways to counteract the misleading duds.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Many dog trainers who rely on using reward-based methods feel passionately about the importance of using humane methods that don’t cause dogs to experience fear or pain. Thus, they feel it strongly when people use or share articles about methods that involve shock collars, dominance, pack ‘theory’, or any form of positive punishment, because they know aversive methods have risks for dogs

What are the best ways to counteract this kind of misleading information?

This is a question that preoccupies me (and many of you, I know) because it is such an important one for animal welfare. I’ve written before about the many factors that influence people’s choice of dog training methods (Todd, 2018) and in this post I want to look at some of those factors in more detail.

The importance of social norms in dog training
A social psycho…