Do you love to learn about the science of people’s relationships with their pets? I asked Dr Zazie Todd, who’s blog Companion Animal Psychology is a great inspiration to all of us interested in pets, to tell us about her 5 favourite companion animal psychology articles. So interesting! Here are her top pet picks…
At Companion Animal Psychology, I write about the science of people’s relationships with their pets. I think many people are keen to learn more about their animals and what they can do to help their dogs and cats lead a happier life. I especially love writing about science that will make a difference to people and their pets.
- It’s not just catnip: olfactory enrichment for cats
It’s not just catnip: olfactory enrichment for cats is one of my favourite posts. I think everyone has heard of catnip, but there are other substances that have a similar effect on some cats – silver vine, Tatarian honeysuckle, and valerian. This article is about a study that tested 100 cats with these four different substances. About a third of cats don’t respond to catnip, but it turns out most cats will respond to at least one of these substances, with 80% of cats in this study liking silver vine. The chemical cats respond to in catnip is called nepetalactone, and silver vine contains similar compounds. You can get it as a small stick or as a powder, and in Japan where it is very popular for cats. It turns out one of my kitties absolutely loves silver vine sticks, so this article even made a difference to one of my own cats (thank you to Dr. Sebastiaan Bol, lead author of this study, for sending me some to try!). For any cat, but especially for indoor cats, it’s important to think about enrichment and this is one easy way to provide it.
2. What your cat’s nose knows
Still on the theme of olfaction in cats, one of my other favourite articles is called what your cat’s nose knows. It’s about what chemical signals mean to cats and how they use their nose and something called the vomeronasal organ which detects pheromones. We’ve all seen cats rubbing their heads on things, and our own cats come and rub their heads on us all the time. This is leaving a chemical signal on us and on the furniture etc. that deposits pheromones and helps to make it familiar to them. It turns out these signals are really important to cats. I think every cat owner will find something surprising and interesting in this post. And there are lots of ways we can use it to make cats feel happier in the home, so there are some suggestions at the end of the article. For example when cats rub regularly in the same place on the wall, it leaves a little mark on the paintwork, but the cat gains comfort from the chemical signals they have left behind and would prefer us not to constantly clean them up.
3. The ultimate dog training tip
I write about dogs a lot, and in particular dog training. One of my favourite dog articles is the ultimate dog training tip. Unfortunately a lot of dog training advice is not evidence-based, and if you look on the internet or in books or on TV, you see a lot of contradictory ideas about how to train a dog. Some of it is even potentially dangerous. So this post is about the one thing I wish every dog owner would know. If people know about this then it will help them to weed out what is good and what is not so good. It’s one of my most popular posts so I think it hit a nerve. And the important thing is that even though the article is quite chatty, it is all evidence-based. If you want to go and read about the science it is mentioned in the article and there are lots of links where you can follow it up if you want more information. This actually applies to all of my articles!
4. People mistakenly think anxious dogs are relaxed around baby
Another favourite dog article is about dogs and small children: People mistakenly think anxious dogs are relaxed around baby. We all know that children are at greater risk of dog bites than adults (not least because they are so small), but one of the problems is that sometimes people aren’t very good at reading a dog’s body language. So maybe people aren’t very good at judging the risk. The surprising thing about the study reported in this post is that dog owners were worse at recognizing when an interaction between a dog and a small child is risky than people who don’t own dogs. Unfortunately dog owners were more likely to say the dog was relaxed even though it was showing signs of stress such as looking away or moving away from the child.
5. The sensitive period for socialization in puppies and kittens
And the last article on my list of favourites is The sensitive period for socialization in puppies and kittens. I think these days people are aware that puppies have an important period up until about 12 weeks or so when they need to have lots of positive experiences that will set them up for later life. I wrote this post about puppies and kittens because it’s really interesting to compare when that period is and what we need to do during that time. Because part or all of the sensitive period occurs while puppies and kittens are still at the breeder, it’s so important for us as pet owners to ask how a puppy or kitten has been socialized before bringing it home; obviously it’s best if they have been in a home environment with a breeder (or shelter) who has a good socialization program. And I included something about humans in this article too, because early life experiences are so important for children’s development. It’s fascinating to think about early life experiences across species!
About Zazie Todd, PhD
Zazie has a PhD in Psychology and is an honours graduate of the Academy for Dog Trainers. She created Companion Animal Psychology in 2012 and has a Psychology Today blog called Fellow Creatures. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.