Category Archives: animal welfare

Is that dog a pit bull?

A recently published Open Access article “Is That Dog a Pit Bull? A Cross-Country Comparison of Perceptions of Shelter Workers Regarding Breed Identification” asserts that shelter workers operating in areas restricted by breed-specific legislation (BSL) are more likely to consciously mislabel a dog’s breed if they felt it were to increase the dog’s chances of being adopted and/or avoid being euthanized.

The study, published in Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, compares the breed identification process between workers in the United States and the United Kingdom, noting that often the process relies on the individual worker’s intuition and prior experiences with other dogs. A survey with photos of the same twenty dogs were sent to shelters in the US and UK. American shelter workers were more likely to consider a dog a pit bull than their counterparts in the UK.

These are the photos that the research subjects were shown:

Pit bull identification photos

The pit bull terrier is banned or restricted by BSL in parts of the United States and throughout the United Kingdom. Shelters in both countries are often tasked with accepting unwanted animals and finding new homes for them; many of these animals are pit bulls or other bull breeds. BSL restrictions may include a total breed ban, or some lesser rules such as (but not limited to): higher licensing fees, registering the dog as dangerous with local governments, liability insurance coverage, mandatory sterilization, muzzling on public property, placement of warning signage on private property, and standardized caging requirements.

Shelter workers in areas affected by BSL know that a dog’s identification can influence micro-level trends such as adoption rates, but also macro-level trends such as breed perception nationally and even globally. The study highlights the fact that there exists a lack of consensus on what exactly a pit bull is, and calls to question the validity of determining breeds based on visual assessment.

Source:  Taylor & Francis media release

Facial recognition software for dogs

A new app, Finding Rover, aims to reunite owners with their lost dogs and to support the work of animal shelters.

Simply register (for free), upload a photo of your dog, and go.    When someone finds your dog, they send in a photo of the dog’s face to be scanned and matched through the database.

Of course, micro-chipping  is also a good way to identify your dog in the event it gets lost.  Micro-chipping is now mandatory in New Zealand.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Electronic training collars are a welfare risk

Animal behaviour specialists at the University of Lincoln (UK) have published a study that supports the use of positive reward-based training methods over the use of electronic shock collars.

Shock collar

The immediate effects of training pet dogs with an electronic collar cause behavioural signs of distress, particularly when used at high settings.

The study involved 63 pet dogs referred for poor recall and related problems, including livestock worrying, which are the main reasons for collar use in the UK. The dogs were split into three groups – one using e-collars and two as control groups.

The trainers in the study were industry approved and fully familiar with the guidelines for use of e-collars which are published by collar manufacturers.

Trainers used lower settings with a pre-warning function and behavioural responses were less marked than during a preliminary study (the results of which have since been discounted because the trainers did not follow collar protocols). Despite this, dogs trained with e-collars showed behavioural changes that were consistent with a negative response. These included showing more signs of tension, more yawning and less time engaged in environmental interaction than the control dogs.

Following training most owners reported improvements in their dog’s problem behaviour. Owners of dogs trained using e-collars were, however, less confident of applying the training approach demonstrated.

These findings indicate that there is no consistent benefit to be gained from e-collar training, but greater welfare concerns compared with positive reward-based training.

Lead author Jonathan Cooper, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Welfare at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, said: “e-collar training did not result in a substantially superior response to training in comparison to similarly experienced trainers who do not use e-collars to improve recall and control chasing behaviour.

Accordingly, it seems that the routine use of e-collars even in accordance with best practice, as suggested by collar manufacturers, presents a risk to the well-being of pet dogs. The scale of this risk would be expected to be increased when practice falls outside of this ideal.”

The peer-reviewed journal article for this research is:

Jonathan J Cooper, Nina Cracknell, Jessica Hardiman, Hannah Wright, Daniel Mills ‘The welfare consequences and efficacy of training pet dogs with remote electronic training collars in comparison to reward based training’ PLOSone http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102722

Source:  University of Lincoln media statement

Skull shape and its implication for animal welfare

Syringomyelia (SM) is a painful condition in dogs that is more common in toy breeds like the Chihuahua and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. It involves the formation of fluid-filled cavities, known as syrinxes, in the spinal cord.  In these toy breeds, SM is usually secondary to a specific malformation of the skull called Chiari-like Malformation, CM for short.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

New research conducted at the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences has identified two significant risk factors associated with these painful neurological conditions.

Identifying a head shape in dogs that is associated with these diseases would allow for selection away from these conditions and could be used to further breeding guidelines. Dogs were measured in several countries using a standardised “bony landmark” measuring system and photo analysis by trained researchers.

The researchers found two significant risk factors associated with CM/SM in the skull shape of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  These were the extent of the broadness of the top of skull relative to its length, also known as brachycephaly, and the distribution of doming of the skull. The study suggests that brachycephaly, with resulting doming towards the front of the head, is associated with both conditions.

Thomas Mitchell, who was the undergraduate involved in the study, says “The study also provides guidance to breed clubs, breeders and judges that have a responsibility to avoid obvious conditions or exaggerations which would be harmful in any way to the health, welfare or soundness of the breed.  It will also provide vets with verified advice to provide to breeders outside the show ring and to occasional hobbyists.”

This research has been published online in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology.

Source:  University of Bristol media release

Please also see my earlier post on Your dog may have a permanent headache, which discusses the Chiari malformation and earlier research on the Griffon Bruxellois.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

A food dispenser for homeless dogs

It’s been estimated that almost 150,000 stray dogs and cats make the city of Istanbul, Turkey their home.  Now a company named Pugedon has designed a vending machine “A Smart Recycling Box” that dispenses dog food when an empty plastic bottle is inserted.

The machine also has a water dish so people can empty out remaining water for the animals to drink.

The idea is to support recycling and to help care for strays.  Probably the most important aspect of the machine is that it raises awareness of homeless animals.

Here’s the company’s promotional video on how the machine works.

More evidence against breed specific legislation

UK legislation that targets ‘dangerous dogs’ has not been shown to reduce dog bites and policies should be based on evidence and risk assessment, suggests a new article.

Rachel Orritt, a PhD student of psychology at the University of Lincoln says that dog bites present a “public health risk of unknown magnitude but no scientific evidence upon which to base a reliable UK estimate has been obtained in the past two decades.”

She also says that discussion by medical professionals about the impact of dog-human interactions “sometimes ignores the health benefits concomitant with dog ownership” with one writer in The British Medical Journal suggesting that “the only way to stop dog bites will be to ban dogs.”

Orritt says there are several studies that show owning a dog is associated with increased physical activity, better self esteem and fewer annual visits to the doctor. She adds that “eradicating dogs would have negative consequences for human health.”

She argues that the British news media “confound the matter further through inaccurate representation of the risk posed by dogs.”

Inaccurate reporting of dog bites, coupled with public pressure “have contributed to the drafting of legislation,” she writes. The Dangerous Dog Act 1991 has been amended in an effort to improve this legislation “but has been shown to be ineffective at reducing dog bite incidence.”

Orritt says that to reduce dog bite incidence, “academics and medical and veterinary practitioners need to cooperate to develop effective, scientifically sound risk management strategies. These should be evidence based and should not depend on politically driven initiatives such as the current legislation.”

Risk assessment for human violence has proved to be accurate and reliable and Orritt says this “might be a practical preventative measure to reduce injury from dog bite” along with medical and veterinary professionals “familiarising themselves with evidence based resources.”

She says that attention must also be given to the psychological health of patients after trauma.

Orritt believes that research is needed to improve care and an “estimate of dog bite incidence” but until this is done, “the scale of the problem is entirely unknown.”

She concludes that evidence based measures to inform ongoing risk management, such as developing effective risk assessments, “should result in the reduction in dog bite injuries that punitive legislation has not achieved.”

Source:    EurekAlert! media statement

Journal Reference

R. Orritt. Dog ownership has unknown risks but known health benefits: we need evidence based policy. BMJ, 2014; 349 (jul17 7): g4081 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g4081

Rescue a human…the Human Walking Project

When this came across my desk, I had to share it.

The Lost Dogs Home in Melbourne (Australia) came up with an adoption drive with a ‘twist’ this year.  They started the Human Walking Project in downtown Melbourne.

Dogs needing adoption were brought into the central city to encourage office workers to escape their offices and walk with the dogs during their lunch breaks.  And enough of them fell in love to adopt their new canine friends!

I particularly like the ad for the Project:

What initiatives for dog adoption do you think are innovative and fun?  And wouldn’t you like to escape your office at lunch with a friend who shows unconditional love?

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand