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It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...


28 September 2012

Today's favorites: Paul McGreevy's Books and Some Great Operant Conditioning Blogs

Paul McGreevy and his trio. Love that relationship!
Hello hello Mia! 

A of all -- so glad you brought up Paul McGreevy’s book, Carrots and Sticks! I love carrots, although I eat them way too quickly and often choke. Maybe carrots are my sticks...

B of all -- I have been obsessed with McGreevy’s books ever since watching the trailer for his book, A Modern Dog's Life: How to Do the Best for Your Dog.

Authors discussing their books has the potential to be, well, incredibly awkward, but there is nothing awkward or weird about this book trailer! Watching McGreevy and his dogs makes me want to (A) be McGreevy, or (B) at least get inside his relationship with his three dogs.
Three great dogs (Wally, Tinker & their son Neville) a la Paul McGreevy
While (A) is not yet possible, (B) is highly attainable with the help of Modern Dog's Life and Carrots and Sticks. McGreevy explains that A Modern Dog's Life is geared toward helping, “the dog see the whole world as an opportunity and [helping] the dog offer the behaviors and the responses that we want rather than the ones we find unwelcome or unpleasant.” This gets at what you were talking about: We as humans have the power to impact how non-human species view the world. We can create associations that are fear-based or fear-ridden or, we can create associations where animals see the world as filled with opportunity. Quality Operant Conditioning Blog Posts I want to stick with this topic of learning theory and share the below blog posts. They explain the ins and outs of positive punishment, positive reinforcement, negative punishment and negative reinforcement. I'm a 150% visual learner, and I worship their explanations because they come with tables! God bless tables...
I'll get back to the way dogs look next time. In the meantime, I love that picture of you -- and is that a "gentle giant" -- on facebook?

Bye for now! 


Further Reading: 

Dr. Sophia Yin, The Art and Science of Animal Behavior Blog

Dr. Roger Abrantes, Life is great!  

© Julie Hecht 2012
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24 September 2012

The science of carrots and sticks

This is not Kate. (source)

Hi Julie,

Today I want to tell you all about the great time I had last week. But first, you have to know about my lovely friend, Kate. We originally met through our research group at Monash University. We’re colleagues who have completing our PhD’s (both aiming to complete SOON) in common, but we also share a background in Zoology and the fact we have been juggling our research with our work for the past few years. Kindred spirits!

This is Kate!
Kate works primarily as an animal behaviourist (you can check out her business website, or follow her on facebook), but she is also a media personality, experienced freelance writer and delivers professional and public training workshops. The Melbourne Aquarium asked Kate to come and present to their staff about the ‘Science of Animal Behaviour and Training’ and Kate asked me to come along to help out.

Hello penguins!
I said yes.

Kate’s presentations comprised of theoretical (learning), observational (watching) and practical (doing) exercises. It is always so good to see ongoing professional development in any workplace and the aquarium staff were really engaged and enthusiastic participants. I took lots of fun video footage that you would have seen on our facebook page.

Kate’s a great presenter and someone who believes in the fact we (as people) never stop learning. She lives this belief and engages in lots of ongoing professional training opportunities in furthering her understanding of animal behaviour and how we can influence it. For example, she just got back from learning with Ken Ramirez at Shedd Aquarium and over the past few years has also been to Natural Encounters Inc and done chicken camp with Terry Ryan.

So what does this have to do with dogs? So much!

Animal training specialists understand about animal behaviour (taking into account the individual animal’s history and the effect of the current environment) and the science of learning theory. They use this knowledge to help shape animal behaviour to improve things like animal welfare, enrichment goals and human safety.

Divers do group fish feeds in the large aquarium in front of the public. There are big sharks and stingrays in there.
What’s the most exciting thing about learning from people who train marine mammals, exotic parrots and chickens? They are able to do this using positive reinforcement training methods! Without force. Because good luck trying to train a 1200kg (that’s 2500lb) walrus or 1500kg beluga whale (that’s closer to 3000lb) using aversive techniques. They don’t do prong collars or choke chains that size.

One of the key findings in the Australian Working Dog Survey in 2009 was that the use of aversive training techniques (such as using electric shock collars and correction methods rather than positive reinforcement) was correlated with lack of formal certified education in dog training. If we can help spread information about the practical applications of scientifically established learning theory, we can help to improve training success, the human-animal relationship and animal welfare outcomes – what’s not to like?

If you’d like to find out more, check out the links of the places Kate has done her training courses. I also really like this book by McGreevy and Boakes called ‘Carrots and Sticks: Principles of Animal Training’. It contains two parts, the first is about the general principles of learning theory (including positive reinforcement, fear, punishment and avoidance training and a chapter about animal intelligence) and the second is a whole bundle of case studies (focussing on companion and performance animals, exotic animals and working animals). It’s easy to read, gives you plenty to think about and the use of real life case studies helps to illustrate how the theory can be applied in so many different contexts.

I saw you got some interesting feedback when you asked the peanut gallery what it is about their dogs' looks that prompt them to attribute personality traits. The M.C. commenter wasn't me (just in case you though maybe it was) I do have a big dog though, and he does get called a gentle giant ALL the time. I tend to always fall in love with floppy eared dogs. 

Why is that?!
Please tell me MORE!


Further reading:

McGreevy, PD & Boakes, RA. Carrots and Sticks: Principles of Animal Training. Darlington Press, Sydney, 2011.

Frear, L. (2009). Carrots and Sticks: Principles of Animal Training. Paul McGreevy and Robert Boakes., Integrative and Comparative Biology, 49 (4) 471. DOI: 10.1093/icb/icp016

Haverbeke, A., Laporte, B., Depiereux, E., Giffroy, J.M. & Diederich, C. (2008). Training methods of military dog handlers and their effects on the team's performances, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 113 (1-3) 122. DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2007.11.010

© Mia Cobb 2012
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19 September 2012

Looking at looks

Hi Mia!

I mean, AHHHH You made a video! Tre exciting!!

So many working dogs in one place -- that’s what I am constantly amazed by about your project. I know that's the point, but it's still quite groovy. Working dogs are so often this abstract concept, and your project is pulling them together and exploring them in one place.

Carrying a box, not a laptop. Next time, bring me some pizza...
And of course, the real working dogs
I realize that a lot of what we're talking about on this Blog is exploring the dog for who the dog is. Part of this entails investigating how we, the humans, have physically molded and shaped dogs. After all, left to their own devices, dogs would not naturally mold themselves into the Pug, Great Dane and Schipperke.

All members of the same species. Weird!
As part of a recent research project at the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab, I’ve spent oodles of time thinking about why dogs look the way they do. I often peruse breed websites, like the AKC, to read different breed physical standards. 

“The ideal Boston Terrier expression is "alert and kind, indicating a high degree of intelligence.” 

A Bichon Frise is said to have an “inquisitive expression.” 

Leaving behavior out of the equation, what is it about the way a Boston Terrier looks that indicates intelligence? What is it about a Bichon’s expression that deems it inquisitive? 

How do we come to attribute different meanings to different appearances? Next time, I'll tell you how our research group took a stab at "looking at looks," but first...

Hello out there in TV Land! What do you think? 

What is it about your dog's physical appearance (if anything) that prompts you to ascribe particular character traits to your dog?

Bye for now!


© Julie Hecht 2012
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16 September 2012

AAWS-struck: effecting change in animal welfare

Absolutely loving the Real Gosling tumblr - this made my week!
Hey Julie!
Yes, I swear I'm not ignoring you or your questions and I will get back to you about all the juicy things you raised in your last post. But now I'm home from Canberra, I really need to tell you about the AAWS National Workshop while it's all fresh.

As I mentioned in my previous AAWS postI’ve been part of the AAWS ‘working dog working group sub-group’ since 2007. At this year’s workshop I presented about the two working dog welfare research projects that AAWS have funded over the past few years. 

read the report here
The first-ever Australian Working Dog Survey in 2009 (you can read the full report here) and the follow up Australian Working Dog Industry Action Plan that was submitted to government mid-year (and as of Friday, I’m happy to report it’s also available online: the summary and full report are available here). 

The ‘Survey’ was the first of its kind in the world and gathered benchmarking data about the sourcing, breeding, raising, assessment, training, trainer education, housing, health care and end points of 4,195 of Australia's working dogs. As you know, it's a really diverse industry including dogs from private (e.g. farm), government (e.g. military & police), assistance/service (e.g. guide/seing eye) and sporting (e.g. racing greyhounds) sectors.
Access the full Plan here

These preliminary findings were then extended in the ‘Action Plan’ to provide a three year strategic plan that will aid to unite and engage the various Australian Working Dog Industry sectors to advance the welfare and productivity of Australia’s iconic working dogs. 

I've been very fortunate to collaborate with Dr Nick Branson and Professor Paul McGreevy on these two research projects and it was really fun to share the project outcomes with the extended AAWS stakeholder group. It was a great feeling to receive lots of positive feedback and interest in the projects. 

There were lots of great questions and even expressions of interests from other animal sector groups (cows! horses!) wanting to learn more about the process to be able to apply a similar approach to help break down their big picture goals into achievable targets and strategies.

Working at the interface between research and industry has lots of challenges, but I have always enjoyed problem solving. I feel that these kind of initiatives make the best use of my background and also feeds that passion of working 'like a dog' to make a difference. And I like that - a lot.

So getting back to our Real Gosling buddy up there - you like my slides, huh?
Well OK - you might as well see them all and hear my talk then!

You still need to tell me about those pink pads Julie - I haven't forgotten them! 



1. N. Branson, M. Cobb, P. McGreevy (2010). The Australian Working Dog Survey Report 2009. Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. 

2. N. Branson, M. Cobb, P. McGreevy (2012). The Australian Working Dog Industry Action Plan 2012. Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. 

If you'd like to know more about the work of Nick and Paul, here are a few (randomly) selected articles of theirs to check out:
Branson, N.J. & Rogers, L.J. (2006). Relationship between paw preference strength and noise phobia in Canis familiaris., Journal of Comparative Psychology, 120 (3) 183. DOI: 10.1037/0735-7036.120.3.176

McGreevy, P. D. (2007) Breeding for quality of life. Animal Welfare, 16 (1) 125.

McGreevy, P.D., Starling, M., Branson, N.J., Cobb, M.L. & Calnon, D. (2012). An overview of the dog–human dyad and ethograms within it, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 7 (2) 117. DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2011.06.001

© Mia Cobb 2012
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13 September 2012

Zoos and an enlarged dachshund wrapped up in welfare

I can wait for you to talk about humping in working dogs later. I’m assuming humping didn’t come up at the AAWSome conference -- maybe something for the conference suggestion box?

I haven’t seen any humping recently, although LOADS of people are getting a taste of humping at Marc Bekoff’s Psychology Today post, Why Dogs Hump (324 Facebook “likes” as of today). Clearly this pales in comparison to the attention Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson are getting, but hey, it's a start.

This seems to be a welfare time of year. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums are finishing up their 2012 conference in Phoeniz. Jason Goldman, who attended the conference, just told us, via Twitter, about the many welfare conversations and assessments on the table. Topics from the conference:

Humans and their job as welfare providers 
Keepers 2016: Building Zoo Staff's Capacity to Recognize and Solve Welfare Concerns Before They Become Welfare Problems 
Deborah Fripp, Animal Welfare Specialist

Ethologically relevant questions for kept species
To Fly or Not to Fly, Is that Really the Question? Sara Hallager, Biologist, Smithsonian National Zoological Park

How can zoos better monitor animal welfare?

WelfareTrak: A Welfare Monitoring Tool that Combines the Art and Science of Animal Caretaking -- Jessica Whitham, Animal Welfare Biologist, Chicago Zoological Society - Brookfield Zoo (This seems like one of those tools where if I knew more about it, I'd be raving about it like EthoSearch)

And considering relationships and emotions of both zoo animals and keepers
The Potential for Improved Animal Welfare Through the Human-animal Relationship and Emotional Enrichment in the Zoological Context -- Diana Reiss, Professor, Dept of Psychology, Hunter College CUNY, Hunter College

So, welfare talks are on the ground at Zoos and Aquariums, but what about the companion dogs?

Dogs often seem to slip through the welfare cracks. Do you see that in working dogs? Does their status of “working” almost make it assumed that they have “good welfare.” They can handle "it" (whatever it may be); After all, they’re workers!

Companion dogs can be perceived similarly. They live in homes, have families, are loved, how might their welfare be challenged?

Here's the tail end of a challenge to a dog's welfare. I guess we could also ask, how is it adaptive for a dog to just keep -- on -- eating... but that's a post for another day!

Your turn about the conference!!!



© Julie Hecht 2012
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11 September 2012

Super quick post about AAWS - more to come!

Hey Julie,

have 2 mins til lunch break is over - here is my conference update - in pictures!

It's true!  >>>>>>>>
A lot of my day has this view. 
We have sessions from 8.30am-5.30pm (and all our meals are shared in a group): I am listening, taking notes, tweeting updates and networking with others here. We have a  wacky long room with some big pillars throughout it - bit odd, so there are multiple display screen so everyone can see presentations.

Coffee and lollies are integral to this process. No discussion. 
 There have been some fabulous and thought provoking talks.
 This is my working group - shame the racehorses pictured aren't represented here by anyone from the racing industry body. Guess they look nice in pictures.

My talk was well-received - I'll let you know more about that in my next proper post! Tell me more about that seductive ?kitty? paw I saw!

© Mia Cobb 2012
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What's going on at the conference??

Hello hello!

Tell the Julie! I'm on the other side of the pond, NOT at an AAWSome conference (and therefore quite jealous). Things that are going on here...

It's getting cooler...

I have a story about this...

And I've been spending a lot of time here because we're interviewing for new lab members.

And we're finishing up an olfactory perception study using these things...

Tell me what I'm missing!!


© Julie Hecht 2012
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7 September 2012

Totally AAWSome

Hey Julie,

Thanks for all that humping info – it’s humptastic!
I am going to get back to you about humping in working dogs another day, as I want to give my response a whole post, which I can’t do today. 

Today I need to tell you about AAWS. That’s because AAWS has been in my head all day while I’ve been working on a presentation I’ll be giving next week at the sixth annual Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS) National Workshop’. 

The AAWS was developed by the Australian Government with assistance from the National Consultative Committee on Animal Welfare, in consultation with state and territory governments, animal industry experts and organisations, animal welfare groups and the general public.

Stakeholders can be very diverse! (source/source)
The strategy is for all Australian community stakeholders. 

Stakeholders are people with an interest or concern in animal welfare. In the context of the AAWS, they might be animal owners, veterinarians, livestock producers, researchers or people involved in animal welfare organisations or government agencies.

The AAWS is intended to improve the welfare of all animals, in all Australian states and territories. I have been involved with AAWS since 2007 as a member of a working group. Working groups are comprised of members from government, industry and sector specialist organisations, and also animal welfare organisations. 

The role of working groups is to connect the AAWS process and stakeholder networks through discussion forums, the development of projects (including research) and provision of expert advice to support development in each of these key animal areas:

• livestock/production animals

animals used for work, sport, recreation
  or display (WORKING DOGS ARE HERE)

• companion animals
• animals in the wild
• aquatic animals, and
• animals used in research and for teaching

At this year’s workshop I’ll be presenting about the two working dog welfare research projects that AAWS have funded over the past few years. 

This is the research I was presenting when we met at the Canine Science Forum.
I’m really proud to have the opportunity to share this research and its outcomes with an audience of people who are all invested in improving animal welfare – I think they’re going to be excited too! 

I’ll be at the workshop for half of next week, so will be sure to tell you how it’s all going in my next post.

Happy Friday!


AAWS website: 

Mellor, D.J. & Bayvel, A.C.D. (2008). New Zealand's inclusive science-based system for setting animal welfare standards, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 113 (4) 329. DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.01.010

© Mia Cobb 2012
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4 September 2012

A moment for humping


You have editor friends? Such a big deal! I reference Grammar Girl often, but I always prefer live, personal feedback.

I was really taken aback by those photos you posted because logically, I know that when breeding for (1) physical health and (2) guide-dog "appropriate" behaviors, physical characteristics are not necessarily prioritized. And, as you showed, other physical characteristics can start coming through. I don’t think I’ve seen photos like that before. Pretty awesome.

s a great example of the diversity within each breed, and the standards that are set are just one of many physical “breed standards” that could exist within any one breed. What if those colorings that you showed weren’t considered a “mismark” and were instead referred to as "Jackson Pollack" markings?

So, in our conversation of welfare, we’ve got working dogs and aesthetics on the table. Now I need to explain why I put up a picture of a dog humping a cat's head. I want to throw humping into the mix. 

Humping Time
Back in the Spring, I wrote an article for the magazine The Bark called, H*mping Why do they do it? (humping in dogs, of course). The piece covered (1) what people think mounting and humping is all about, and (2) when and (3) why do dogs do it. Much of the piece discussed contexts and emotional states. (To prepare for the article, I asked people on my Dog Spies Blog to share their thoughts on humping. I received 25 comments, meaning the most comments I have ever received were about humping).

This past weekend, Marc Bekoff put up a post called Why Dogs Hump on his Psychology Today blog. His post covers my H*mping piece, and he added his own experiences and perspectives as an ethologist.

I’m excited my piece is getting coverage because there’s lots of incomplete conversations about why dogs mount and hump (and to be fair, we’re still getting to know the behaviors better). It often seems like people just want to stop humping and mounting in their tracks and not think about why a dog might be humping or mounting in the first place. 

Humping can pop out during stress and anxiety; it could also occur during play, excitement, and stimulation. It can even be present during conflicted emotional states, to name a few. Given the complexity of this behavior, people should ask themselves, “What does mounting and humping mean for your dog?”

To help people when thinking about humping, I put together a list of Humping Resources written by applied ethologists and veterinary behaviorists.

I'm also talking about humping because I want to throw humping into the welfare mix! Technically, humping is a normal behavior in dogs (not an abnormal behavior like flank sucking or tail chasing), but humping can still raise welfare questions and concerns. 

For example, some dogs can become obsessive about humping, and sometimes it can be associated with stress. So I was wondering, does humping come up in working dogs? And if so, is it discussed, and how does it play out?

Bye for now!


Some Humping Resources
Hecht, Julie. Humping Resources. Dog Spies, September 2012.

Hecht, Julie. “H*mping Why do they do it?” The Bark, June-August 2012: 70, 56-60.

Bekoff, Marc. Why Dogs Hump. Psychology Today, September 2012. 


Moon-Fanelli, A.A., Dodman, N.H., Famula, T.R. & Cottam, N. (2011). Characteristics of compulsive tail chasing and associated risk factors in Bull Terriers, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 238 (7) 889. DOI: 10.2460/javma.238.7.883

Moon-Fanelli, A.A., Dodman, N.H. & Cottam, N. (2007). Blanket and flank sucking in Doberman Pinschers, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 231 (6) 912. DOI: 10.2460/javma.231.6.907

© Julie Hecht 2012
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