Category Archives: dog ownership

The problem with promoting ‘responsible dog ownership’

Responsible dog owner

Dog welfare campaigns that tell people to be “responsible owners” don’t help to promote behaviour change, a new University of Liverpool report suggests.

Dog owners interviewed for a study published in Anthrozoös all considered themselves to be responsible owners, despite there being great variation in key aspects of their dog-owning behaviour.

“Policy and campaigning messages related to dog ownership and welfare tend to focus on the concept of being a responsible owner. However, while ‘responsible dog ownership’ has considerable appeal as a concept, how it is perceived and interpreted has not been studied in-depth,” explains lead researcher Dr Carri Westgarth, a dog behaviour expert at the University of Liverpool.

In order to better understand beliefs and views about responsibility in dog ownership, the researchers carried out in-depth interviews with dog-owning households and shorter interviews with dog owners while walking their dogs or representing their breed at a dog show. The interviews focused on dog walking, an issue perceived to be a component of responsible dog ownership, as well as other aspects of campaign messages, such as dog fouling, aggression and neutering.

Dr Westgarth also reflected on her own experiences of walking her three dogs, and on her many conversations with other owners over the two-year study period.

Dr Westgarth said: “It’s clear from our research that responsible dog ownership means different things to different people at different times. It emerges from a blurred intersection of the needs of dogs, owners, and others, where often the dog comes first.

“Dog owners do what they perceive to be best for their individual dog, even if this goes against general advice given such as how often dogs need walking or neutering campaigns.

“Yet this perception may be different from to what others feel is best for that dog, or how people who are impacted by the dog want the dog and their owner to behave.

“Therefore, simply telling owners that they should “be responsible” is of limited use as a message to promote behaviour change because they already believe that they are. Any educational messages for dog owners need to be specific what they want owners to do and explain why that is in the best interest of the dog that they love so much.”

The report authors say that further research is now required in order to understand the implications for wider aspects of responsible dog ownership practices.


Research reference:

Carri Westgarth, Robert M Christley, Garry Marvin & Elizabeth Perkins (2019) The Responsible Dog Owner: The Construction of Responsibility, Anthrozoös, 32:5, 631-646, DOI: 10.1080/08927936.2019.1645506

Source:  University of Liverpool

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Pawsitively sad

We are all familiar with the sounds of a cat or dog vying for human attention, and for pet-owners, these sounds are particularly evocative. Dog sounds are especially sad to both cat and dog owners, who actually rate a whimpering dog as sounding as sad as a crying baby.

Pawsitively Sad

These results are reported in the new study, Pawsitively sad: pet-owners are more sensitive to negative emotion in animal distress vocalizations, from Associate Professor, Christine Parsons, who is based at the Interacting Minds Centre at the Department of Clinical medicine at Aarhus University, Denmark. She is the first author of the scientific article published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

“Pet ownership is associated with greater sensitivity to pet distress sounds, and it may be part of the reason why we are willing to spend large amounts of time and resources on our domestic companions. It might also explain why we find interacting with pets so rewarding, and are emotionally impacted by both positive communication signals, like purring and negative, like meows or whines,” says Christine Parsons.

She explains that the work was carried out as part of building a major database of emotional sounds — originally developed to test the instinctive responses that parents have to their children. In this study, Parsons has worked with researchers from the University of Oxford, the University of California LA, and King’s College of London.

The researchers tested more than 500 young adults and found that dog whines sounded ‘more negative’ to dog or cat owners, compared to people with no pets, whereas cat meows sounded sadder only to cat owners. Another finding was that regardless of pet ownership, dog whines sounded sadder than cat meows.

“The result suggests that dogs, more effectively than cats, communicate distress to humans and that pet ownership is linked to greater emotional sensitivity to these sounds. For sounds that we need to respond to, like a dog that is utterly dependent on its human host for food and care, it makes sense that we find these sounds emotionally compelling,” says Christine Parsons.

Parsons’s collaborator, Katherine Young, a lecturer at King’s College London and senior author, also points out that dog owners in general spend more time providing basic care to their pets than cat owners. Dog owners need to take their pets for walks, they need more dedicated care, while cat owners have fewer obligations. Cats are semi-domesticated, and generally retain their independence, along with an air of mystique. They come and go as they please.

“This difference in animal dependence may explain why dog whines are rated as more negative than cat meows by all adults, including cat-owners. Dogs may simply have more effective distress signals than cats,” says Katherine Young.

According to Christine Parsons the study also found no evidence to support the longstanding ‘crazy cat lady’ stereotype. Female cat owners have, for many years, been portrayed as neurotic, lonely, sexless and eccentric. Dog owners, and dog ownership is seen more positively, associated with benefits like the ‘Lassie effect’. Named after the TV collie, Lassie, dog owners typically get more physical exercise than non-owners, a happy side-effect of dog walks.

“In general, we think of dog owners in more positive terms than cat owners. In our study, we were able to test how cat-owners, dog owners and people with no pets responded on a series of robust psychological measures. We found no differences,” Christine Parsons says.

“For symptoms of anxiety, depression and self-reported experiences in close relationships, we found no differences between adults with and without pets. We suggesting that cat or dog ownership is not necessarily associated with individual differences in psychological health, at least as tested here.”

Sources:  Pawsitively sad: pet owners are more sensitive to negative emotion in animal distress vocalizations and ScienceDaily

Dog show terms

I’ve been writing for NZ Dog World magazine since 2010; this is the magazine of Dogs New Zealand (formerly known as the NZ Kennel Club).

For those of you who have heard of shows like the Westminster Dog Show, but have never been to a dog show, here are some basic terms:

national-dog-show-2015

Handler, agent, or exhibitor (depending on what country you’re in)

This is the person who shows the dog in the ring.  The handler isn’t necessarily the dog’s owner and in high-stakes shows like Westminster, the handler may be paid to show the dog.

Bait

Usually treats or a toy that the handler uses to get a dog’s attention or to have the dog look alert in the ring

Best in Show

The final award which is presented to the dog that is judged to be the best of all dogs shown

Conformation show

A dog show which judges the dogs against a breed standard

Group show

A type of conformation show that is limited to a single group of dog such as Hunting Dogs or Sporting Dogs

Specialty show

A type of conformation show that is limited to either a single breed or a group of breeds, such as terriers

Stacking

The posing of the dog in a natural standing position for evaluation by the show’s judge

Dogs New Zealand

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

I am the owner of a responsible dog

Izzy, my greyhound, is a responsible dog and I, according to the Christchurch City Council, am a responsible dog owner.

Her yellow tag this year denotes that she is registered with the Christchurch City Council for the 2019/20 year.

In our district, a Responsible Dog owner is one that has met these criteria:

Izzy responsible dog

Izzy the greyhound

  • have been the registered owner of a dog and have resided in the Christchurch City Council district for at least 12 months
  • have paid dog registration fees on or before 30 June for the last two years
  • have all dogs micro-chipped in accordance with the Dog Control Act, including providing the microchip number to the Council
  • have a licence to keep multiple dogs on their property (if applicable)
  • inform the Council of any dog registration or residential address changes, including information on the death, sale, or transfer of any dogs, and including the birth of any pups.

The dog owner must have a property at which the dog resides that:

  • is suitably fenced and gated to contain the dog
  • allows dog-free access to a door of the dwelling for authorised callers.

The owner must have complied with the requirements of the Dog Control Act 1996 and the current Christchurch City Council Dog Control Bylaw, and must not, in the last two years, have:

  • had a dog that has been found at large, been uncontrolled, or been chased, returned or impounded by Council Animal Management staff
  • been issued with a warning notice or infringement notice for any dog-related offence
  • been prosecuted for any dog-related offence.

My Responsible Dog Owner status qualifies me for substantial discounts for dog registration.  Instead of $93.00 for the year, I paid $59.00.

While some properties can be configured for a dog-free access door, others may not.  But that’s about the only criteria that I think should be difficult for owners to achieve.  Having a dog is a luxury, not a right.  And bringing a dog into your life means that you are prepared to invest the time and money to keep them healthy, happy and well-behaved.

And in Izzy’s opinion, being a Responsible Dog is also easy:

  • walk on a lead with your owner or have excellent recall off-lead
  • greet other dogs respectfully, regardless of their size
  • don’t jump up for attention
  • have your owner clean up after you
  • move over when it is time to share the bed or sofa
  • promote adoption because there are many dogs out there needing homes
  • show unconditional love to the members of your family – they need it.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Owning a dog is influenced by our genetic make-up

A team of Swedish and British scientists have studied the heritability of dog ownership using information from 35,035 twin pairs from the Swedish Twin Registry. The results indicate that an individual’s genetic make-up has a great influence on whether they choose to acquire a dog. Genes appear to account for more than half of the difference in dog ownership.

Dog ownership

“Perhaps some people have a higher innate propensity to care for a pet than others” Photograph: Mikael Wallerstedt

Dogs were the first domesticated animal and have had a close relationship with humans for at least 15,000 years. Today, dogs are common pets in our society and are considered to increase the well-being and health of their owners. The team compared the genetic make-up of twins (using the Swedish Twin Registry – the largest of its kind in the world) with dog ownership. The results are published for the first time in Scientific Reports. The goal was to determine whether dog ownership has a heritable component.

“We were surprised to see that a person’s genetic make-up appears to be a significant influence in whether they own a dog. As such, these findings have major implications in several different fields related to understanding dog-human interaction throughout history and in modern times. Although dogs and other pets are common household members across the globe, little is known how they impact our daily life and health. Perhaps some people have a higher innate propensity to care for a pet than others,” says Tove Fall, lead author of the study, and Professor in Molecular Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University.

Health benefits of owning a dog

Carri Westgarth, Lecturer in Human-Animal interaction at the University of Liverpool and co-author of the study, adds: “These findings are important as they suggest that supposed health benefits of owning a dog reported in some studies may be partly explained by different genetics of the people studied”.

Studying twins is a well-known method for disentangling the influences of environment and genes on our biology and behaviour. Because identical twins share their entire genome, and non-identical twins on average share only half of the genetic variation, comparisons of the within-pair concordance of dog ownership between groups can reveal whether genetics play a role in owning a dog.

Genetics play a major role

The researchers found concordance rates of dog ownership to be much larger in identical twins than in non-identical ones – supporting the view that genetics indeed plays a major role in the choice of owning a dog.

“These kind of twin studies cannot tell us exactly which genes are involved, but at least demonstrate for the first time that genetics and environment play about equal roles in determining dog ownership. The next obvious step is to try to identify which genetic variants affect this choice and how they relate to personality traits and other factors such as allergy” says Patrik Magnusson, senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Karolinska Insitutet, Sweden and Head of the Swedish Twin Registry.

“The study has major implications for understanding the deep and enigmatic history of dog domestication” says zooarchaeologist and co-author of the study Keith Dobney, Chair of Human Palaeoecology in the Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool. “Decades of archaeological research have helped us construct a better picture of where and when dogs entered into the human world, but modern and ancient genetic data are now allowing us to directly explore why and how?”

Source:  Uppsala University

It makes my tail wag when the poop is in the bag

A common problem for most communities is ensuring that dog parents take responsibility for their dog’s poop.

This brochure at the Town of Needham offices caught my eye…a plea to dog owners and walkers to bag it and trash it…

What initiatives does your town have to ensure poop is scooped?

Municipup says

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

CSI for dog poop

PooPrints is a DNA pet waste management service which helps condominium, apartments and senior living communities to identify owners who are not picking up their dog’s waste.

It’s basically CSI for dog poop.

As part of lease or purchase agreements, there is mandatory DNA testing of the resident’s dogs which is done with a mouth swab.  PooPrints analyses the dog’s DNA and then adds it to its database.

If a pile of poop is found on the property, site managers collect a sample of poop using a PooPrints sample collection kit and send it to the lab for testing.  Because cells of the intestine are sloughed off as feces passes through the digestive tract, DNA can be extracted from the sample and matched to the profiles found in the database.

And then the offending dog owner can receive a warning, citation or other enforcement action taken against them.

This type of profiling works well in closed communities because there’s a mechanism for capturing the DNA of the dogs who live there.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand