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


31 January 2013

Dogs & Cats, Cats & Working Dogs, Working Dogs & Emotions

Hi Julie!

What a busy week I’ve found myself having! 

Very productive indeed, with a lot of this:

and some more of that:

 Fuelled by a ton of this:

But I did take time to notice that your cat Josh broke something new.  Oh Josh! 

Thanks for telling me about your ISHAR presentation about dogs and cats in the home.  I can definitely relate to the importance of early socialisation = best chance at harmony. Take my dog Elke, for example.

As a pup, she met and spent time around mature cat Bobby (who opted to ignore her for the most part).
Elke grew up around cats and kittens.
Then she helped me raise a bunch of Shelter foster kittens until they were old enough to be adopted.

By the time Tonto came to live with us as permanent family member, she was an old hand in living around cats. And when Caleb later joined us as a young adult dog, Tonto was pretty relaxed around dogs. He tended to be confident in interactions; not running away (importantly, not triggering any chase responses from our new dog).
Elke ably demonstrating in top image that a cat is not worth waking up for.
Gidget and some enthusiastic GDs
This was also true when we brought a new kennel cat into the Training Kennel and Vet Clinic facility I managed at Guide Dogs Victoria (GDV). We selected a kitten from the Shelter who was outgoing and confident around people and dogs. We then set her up in the main foyer of our facility to have a slow and positive introduction to the visiting puppies and dogs that we could control to maximise the positives for all the animals. 

Gidget now plays an important role at GDV helping to desensitise the dogs to cats by reducing their level of interest and distraction. If their key learning experiences about cats with Gidget are 'boring', they associate future cats with 'boring' and will be less likely to want to chase them. 

Important when you are a working Guide Dog. Or a Police Dog. Or any number of other types of working dogs. Working Dog kennel cats are really common!

GDV Puppy Class (source)
Gidget also attends the puppy socialisation classes, wearing her harness and lead so puppies can be encouraged at an early age to stay calm around cats. A resident kennel cat also means that a friendly cat is readily available to assess a dog’s level of cat distraction or participate in training sessions to improve Guide Dog-appropriate responses to the presence of a cat.  

Or help out with photo shoots around Valentine's Day. You know how it goes!

(source) Gidget loves photo shoots. Even if they aren't (supposed to be) about her!
Gidget would spend her downtime in my office, asleep next to my computer monitor. We were good workmates and I miss her jaunty greetings and blissed out purrs! 
My regular desktop view when working at GDV
One thing about not sharing an office with Gidget any more is that it’s giving me more time to analyse all my PhD data about working dogs in kennel facilities. 

I’ve been busy number-crunching this week ahead of the RSPCA Australia Scientific Seminar later this month. My presentation is titled ‘Working Like a Dog – Affectively’. I’ll be talking about how affective states (a.k.a emotions) relate to working dogs, their welfare and performance. What is the affective experience for a working dog?  How can we tell? What things should we be considering to give working dogs a ‘life worth living’ (or better!) while they are working to help us humans?
RSPCA Scientific Seminar 2013
Professor David Mellor will be chairing the seminar and giving a presentation titled ‘Coping, cognition and quality of life improvement’ which I’m looking forward to hearing. Mellor’s based in New Zealand and I’ve enjoyed listening to him at other conferences. I am very interested in the work he’s been involved with in translating animal welfare science into practical animal welfare standards and outcomes in collaboration with the NZ government. It’s going to be a fun day!

Speaking of fun – aren’t you at Science Online’s 2013 event this week? I’m following #scio13 on Twitter and pretending I’m there too!


Further reading:

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) 313-329. DOI:

Mellor D. (2012). Animal emotions, behaviour and the promotion of positive welfare states, New Zealand Veterinary Journal, 60 (1) 1-8. DOI:

© Mia Cobb 2012
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25 January 2013

Dogs and Cats in the Home: Happiness for all?

Hi Mia!

Looking forward to hearing more about your upcoming conference, ‘When coping is not enough - Promoting positive welfare states in animals’.

I was recently thinking about positive welfare in animals, sort of by accident. This past Monday, I was part of a Cats In Context conference at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. The conference was put together by ISHAR, the Institute for the Study of Human Animal Relations. Last year’s conference covered The Future of Zoos -- and all those talks are available online -- and this year's focus was cats, cats and more cats. Topics included genetics, domestication, cognition, nutrition, behavior problems, vet and health issues, shelter and feral welfare, cats and wildlife and cats and hoarders. 

Apparently, all talks and discussions from Cats in Context will be posted on the ISAHR website so you can see how much coffee and grapes I consumed over the course of 7 hours.

Lucky for me, the conference came with a side of dogs! My talk covered Dogs and Cats in the Home. While approximately 15.3% of pet-owning households own a combination of cats and dogs, cats and dogs, as a unit, haven't receive that much attention from researchers.

Here’s a 100% made-up graph comparing the amount attention given to “Dog”, “Cat” and “Dog and Cat” behavior and cognition research. The point I'm making is that dogs get the bulk of the attention, cats seem to get much less and dogs and cats as a unit are way down at the bottom.

I think many people picture this when they hear Dogs and Cats in the Home:

But when I took a look at the limited literature, it suggested that many of the dogs and cats living together were more like this:

One study used a questionnaire and in-home observations to explore the nature of the relationship between dogs and cats already living in the same household. The overarching finding was that many relationships showed signs of “mutual amicability.” For example, the researchers found that many dogs and cats displayed, “a motivation to initiate mutual play.”

Additionally, 75% of dog and cat pairs displayed nose-to-nose contact which is characteristic of friendly and affiliative relationships, specifically between cats. So, it’s pretty awesome that the researchers found this behavior between dogs and cats.
(Nose-to-Nose behavior between a cat and a dog -- Source)
(Typical Nose-to-Nose behavior between cats -- Source)
One of the major factors contributing to successful relationships between dogs and cats seemed to be age of first encounter, suggesting that early introductions promote subsequent amicable relationships. 

Of course, not all dogs and cats living in the home have amicable relationships, but what this does remind us is that amicable relationships can and do exist, they are not just the "stuff of movies!"

What’s your experience with dogs and cats in the home?? And do tell more about your upcoming talk at the conference, ‘When coping is not enough - Promoting positive welfare states in animals.’

Bye for now!


Feuerstein N. & Terkel J. (2008). Interrelationships of dogs (Canis familiaris) and cats (Felis catus L.) living under the same roof, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 113 (1-3) 150-165. DOI:

© Julie Hecht 2013
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21 January 2013

When coping is not enough

Hi Julie,

Snapshot from Project: Play with your Dog's 'Wall of Contributors'
I’m so pleased to hear that Project: Play with Your Dog is going well. I’ve enjoyed watching the wall of contributors grow and it’s awesome that The Bark featured the research project – but then, why wouldn't they? It’s a fantastic project!

As you mentioned, I’ve been keeping busy getting organised for my presentation at next month’s RSPCA Australia Scientific Seminar. This event is held annually and brings together a wide range of speakers to share the latest knowledge relating to animal welfare research and practices with other academics, industry representatives and anyone else who is interested in coming along to listen. 

The day features a range of talks based around one central theme. These themes (such as ‘How much space does an elephant need? The impact of confinement on animal welfare’) are notoriously designed to cover a range of opinions and promote debate. I've certainly witnessed many spirited discussions between speakers and audience members in previous years.

This year’s theme is:

When coping is not enough - Promoting positive welfare states in animals’.
I’m excited about the day and looking forward to hearing the keynote presentation by Dr James Yeates from RSPCA UK. Yeates has published discussion papers in the scientific literature surrounding the recent introduction of the term ‘a life worth living’ in reports arising from farm animal welfare discussions and policy. 

Dr James Yeates (source)

As we’ve talked about previously, animal welfare can be tricky to measure and defining what makes for ‘good’ animal welfare, or a life worth living, in quantitative terms that can be applied in real-world policy and industry applications, is no easy task for scientists.

It will be great to listen to James speak about this area that really applies to how we consider all animals. He’s also making a couple of stops around Australia’s East coast to give a free public lecture titled How happy does an animal have to be (and how can we tell)? to others who are interested and unable to make it to Canberra.

The other person to speak to the day’s theme is Professor David Mellor who is based in New Zealand. I have always enjoyed listening to him speak at previous conferences.

I will tell you more about Mellor's research and what I’ll be speaking about at the Scientific Seminar next time. 

For now, I hope you’ll forgive me, but I have to go and play with my dogs,


p.s. Tell Josh I said G'day!

Further reading:

Yeates J. (2011). Is 'a life worth living' a concept worth having?, Animal Welfare, 20 (3) 397-406. Link:

Yeates J. (2012). Quality Time: Temporal and Other Aspects of Ethical Principles Based on a “Life Worth Living”, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 25 (4) 607-624. DOI:

© Mia Cobb 2012

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15 January 2013

The feeling of play

Hi there Mia,

2013 is looking pretty good! I loved your recent post on motor, sensory and structural aspects of laterality in dogs. This is the type of research that gets me going. Who would think any information could come from this, and then... Tada!!!
Dogs with clockwise chest whorls were more likely 'right-pawed'

Feels like play
Project: Play with Your Dog is going well! We’re getting loads of submissions from people across the globe, and we'll be collecting submissions through Spring 2013. It’s exciting that people are opening up and sharing little tidbits into how they interact with their dogs. 

Bark magazine blogger, JoAnna Lou recently gave the study a shout out, and that has definitely resulted in the submission of more videos!

One of the best parts of watching the videos is seeing all the different ways that dogs and people enjoy one another. Play is such a unique exchange, and from one dyad to the next, it can look so different. One reason that play is so varied is that play pulls from so many different cognitive arenas like memory, attention, synchronized behavior and timing. Play between dogs and people can sometimes look so fluid that it’s almost like watching water ballet (not that I watch much water ballet). Some play incorporates routines like tug, chase or fetch, and other players create their own rituals and activities.

The feeling of anticipation
The other thing I love about play is the overarching feelings of excitement, joy and anticipation -- with anticipation probably being my favorite. Play with my cat Josh is mostly about anticipation (And as you know, Josh is behind the world famous Tumblr page, The page hasn’t been updated in a month, which is probably a good thing). 

At various times in the day, Josh will dash into the bedroom, bound onto the bed, and assume his crouching pose that indicates -- It’s play time! Come and get me! When I jump up, he takes off running down the hall. I get a kick out of it, and based on his behavior, I assume he gets a kick out of it too.

In fact, play is often used as an indicator of “positive welfare.” How do we know whether an animal -- or a group of animals -- is doing well, feeling good, and generally happy? How do we explore their welfare? If animals have the time, energy and overall fitness to play, it's often assumed their basic biological functions and physiological needs are met. So a playing animal could indicate that an animal is doing well physiologically and emotionally.

Mia, you’re preparing to speak on the topic of emotional states and working dogs at a really interesting conference organized by
RSPCA Australia: When coping is not enough - Promoting positive welfare states in animals. Do working dogs get time to play? What else will you be talking about? Tell tell!

Happy 2013! Let play (and happiness) reign!


Boissy A., Manteuffel G., Jensen M.B., Moe R.O., Spruijt B., Keeling L.J., Winckler C., Forkman B., Dimitrov I. & Langbein J. & (2007). Assessment of positive emotions in animals to improve their welfare, Physiology & Behavior, 92 (3) 375-397. DOI:

© Julie Hecht 2013
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11 January 2013

Be a Resource-Full Puppy Owner

We though we'd best follow up our joint-post about Books for Before & After you get a Puppy or Dog with some further resources. 

Because let's face it - you can never have enough resources to consult with a new puppy in the family! 

Here are some of our primary go-to places and we'd love to hear your suggestions in the comments section below - let's turn this into a great resource-full page for everyone!

Mia & Julie

The Other End of The Leash ~ Patricia McConnell
In 2012, McConnell gave her website a major overhaul. Readers can now follow along her weekly blog, as well as search by interest area and easily link to relevant blog posts and videos.

McConnell’s Reading Room has drop down menus where you can access Training Your DogBehavior & HealthSolving Behavior Problemsand Finding Resources. Have a question about aggression? Go to Solving Behavior Problems. What do you think the "Guilty Look" is all about? Check out the Emotions section in Behavior & Health. 

The Art & Science of Animal Behavior ~ Sophia Yin
An incredibly user-friendly website jam packed with all sorts of information. Yin’s blog and resources are searchable so just type in a term (e.g. toilet training) and take a look! 

Julie's favorite video shows counter conditioning of a dog displaying aggression.

Dog Star Daily ~ Ian Dunbar and co.
Dog Star Daily is a resource-laden website populated by Dunbar and a lot of other trainers. 

Take some time to look through their many many videos.

New resources to watch

The American Veterinary Society 
of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) new website includes a free newsletter (you can sign up using your email address or access the archives online) and blog. Considering that AVSAB tackles such topics as Cat Body Language as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Military dogs, it’s definitely a great resource for everyone!

Pet Pages
Pet Pages features content from lots of different sources. Animal behaviourist Kate Mornement writes regular posts on different topics that can be searched.

Commercial sites
Dr Joanne Righetti has helped Purina populate their Puppy Club website with helpful information.

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8 January 2013

Books for Before & After you get a Puppy/Dog

Whether you’ve lived with dogs since you were in the womb, or you’re first bringing a dog into the home at 46, how do you know where to turn when you’ve got a question? And everyone -- from the most experienced dogger to a first timer -- is bound to have a few questions along the way.

Unfortunately, not all books are created equal, and “Googling it,” can pop out some pretty scary answers. 

In response to a request on our facebook page, the Do You Believe in Dog? team has put together a short list of easy-to read books for before and after you get a puppy or dog. 

These books that are not only short and easy to read but they are easy on the wallet or even free!

Before and After You Get Your Puppy by Dr. Ian Dunbar
Dunbar has been in the dog world for a long time. He began his career studying dog hormones and behavior alongside Dr. Frank Beach and has since moved into helping dogs an humans get on the same page. His two free e-books get straight to the point:

Perfect Puppy in 7 Days by Dr. Sophia Yin 

Yin is also a veterinarian, and she specializes in behaviour. Perfect Puppy in 7 Days is available to order as book (or e-book).

The Perfect Puppy by Gwen Bailey
If you're looking for something family friendly (accessible for kids to read too) on your local library shelves, try Gwen Bailey's books:  
Puppy handbookThe Perfect PuppyGood Dog Behaviour or The Rescue Dog.

The Puppy Primer by Dr. Patricia McConnell
McConnell received her PhD in Zoology in 1988 and has been working with dogs (and their people) ever since! The Puppy Primer is a trainer favourite and describes a six-week program to get you and your puppy off on the right paw.

Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor
Karen Pryor, a biologist who got her start working with dolphins, has has created a wealth of information at her Clicker Training website and her book, Don't Shoot the Dog is really valuable to help understand how and why certain training methods will work better than others.

Happy reading before and after you get your new family member!

Julie & Mia
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