Companion Animal Psychology Turns Seven

Celebrating seven years of blogging about science and pets here at Companion Animal Psychology.

Celebrating seven years of Companion Animal Psychology. Photo shows a Bengal kitten playing with a party toy

Today is exactly seven years since I started Companion Animal Psychology with the aim of finding out what science tells us about how to have happy dogs and cats.

In this time, I’ve been writing evidence-based articles about how best to care for our cats and dogs, and about new scientific research papers that are relevant to the everyday lives of people and their pets.

It’s wonderful to see how much the general public wants to know about science and our pets.

Over the years I’ve been honoured to speak to many scientists, veterinarians, dogs trainers, and others about their work with animals. As well, I’ve been lucky to publish some wonderful guest posts.

Companion Animal Psychology celebrates 7 years of pet science blogging, Photo shows dogs' noses peeking out from a blanket.
A seventh anniversary is a wool anniversary. Photo: dezy/Shutterstock

One thing that keeps me cheerful is to see just how many amazing people are working so hard to make the world a better place for both pets and their people.

This is my 445th post. In the last year, my most popular post was don’t punish your dog for peeing in the house. A series of posts on fearful dogs was particularly well received.

I’ve published fantastic guest posts by Dr. Christian Nawroth, about what animal cognition research means for pet goats, and Kristi Benson, on parallels between dog training and fiction.

I was thrilled to interview Dr. Marc Bekoff about his book Canine Confidential, to speak to Dr. Marty Becker about his co-authored book, From Fearful to Fear Free, and the Fear Free movement to make vet visits easier for pets, and to Prof. Hal Herzog about our complicated relationship with animals.

Companion Animal Psychology celebrates 7 years of blogging about pets and science. Photo shows two copper cat sculptures.
A seventh anniversary is also a copper anniversary. Photo: Narumoi Wunza/Shutterstock

As well, it was a pleasure to interview Lori Nanan about her course in canine nail care, and Jane Sigsworth about working with fearful dogs.

Last June, the 2018 Train for Rewards blog party was a huge success with 27 entries.  Thank you to all the pet bloggers who took part. I took part in someone else’s blog party for the first time with the Pet Blogger Challenge in January this year. 

And I was incredibly honoured that Companion Animal Psychology was profiled in the Washington Post.

Now, I am just finishing up copy edits on my book. I’m delighted to tell you that Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy will be coming to a bookstore near you early next year.

Companion Animal Psychology is 7! Thank you to everyone who supports the blog. Photo shows a tuxedo cat, a rose, and message Thank you.

I want to thank everyone who has supported Companion Animal Psychology over the years with likes, shares, and comments.

And I’d like to give a special shout-out to those of you who support Companion Animal Psychology on Ko-fi.

Your support and encouragement means the world and I appreciate it a lot.

Seven years in internet years feels like a long time. It’s something to celebrate!


Join over 2,500 animal science enthusiasts and subscribe to Companion Animal Psychology.

Which Dog Breeds Are the Best Alternatives to the French Bulldog?

If you love Frenchies but the health issues give you pause, these are the dogs like  French bulldogs that you might like too.

The best dog breed alternatives to the French Bulldog, pictured
French Bulldog. Photo: Irinia Kozorog/Shutterstock.

In 2018, French bulldogs became the most popular breed of dog in the UK, overtaking the Labrador retriever, which had the number 1 spot for almost thirty years. French bulldogs are also in the top ten dog breeds in the US (no. 4), Canada (no. 5),  and Australia (no. 3).

French bulldogs are lovely dogs but unfortunately they can suffer from a number of inherited conditions, which can be distressing for the dog and heart-breaking for the owner.  Because they have a squashed face, they are at risk of Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome, can have trouble breathing, be reluctant to exercise, and may overheat in hot weather.

Veterinarian Shaun Oppermann recently told The Guardian,
"We tend to say: ‘Oh, it’s a French bulldog – it’s normal for them to breathe like that. But if your child sounded like that after a walk in the park, you’d have him straight down to A&E [the emergency department].”
As well, some French bulldogs have ear problems; eye issues; skin issues; or deformities of the spine as a result of the genes that cause a screw tail.

If you’re thinking of getting a French bulldog but are concerned about their health, here are some suggestions for other breeds that might fit the bill, and some tips if you decide only a French bulldog will do.

People who get French bulldogs are often first time dog owners who choose the breed because of its distinctive appearance and personality.

I reached out to some experts to ask which breed they would recommend as an alternative to someone thinking about a French bulldog. In other words, breeds that are suitable for first time dog owners, good with families, suitable for apartment living, don’t need too much exercise, and have a great personality.

Choosing the breed isn’t the most important thing

Although breed is the thing most people think about when getting a dog, other considerations are more important, such as whether it’s the right time for you to get a dog.

Veterinarian Dr. Emma Milne, author of Picking a Pedigree: How to Choose a Healthy Puppy or Kitten, says,
“My advice for first time dog owners would be to totally forget about whatever breed they think they want! Every single prospective dog owner should go for a minimum of half an hour’s walk twice a day every single day for a month regardless of weather. Millions of dogs get no exercise and this task is harder than you think. Research is key. Talk to a vet, not just breed clubs, it’s us that see the breed diseases. Make sure the dog suits your life and learn about socialization and habituation.  
“As for which breed I champion - the good old mutt. A true cross breed. Temperament and health are WAY more important than looks.” 

Dog trainer Kristi Benson, CTC, says,
“consider what it is about Frenchies that you like, and see what other breeds might also have that characteristic.”

These are the breeds recommended as especially suitable for people who love French bulldogs.

Border terrier and other terriers

Which dog breeds are the best alternative to the French Bulldog? The Border Terrier, pictured, is one of the breeds on the list
Border Terrier. Photo: Radomir Rezny/Shutterstock

The border terrier and other terriers are all great choices.

Dog trainer and qualified groomer Amy Terceira, CTC, of Dog Gone Good says, “Looking for a fun loving breed? Consider a border terrier, West Highland terrier or a Norwich or Norfolk terrier."

She says. "These breeds are hearty and don't have loads of health issues. They are affectionate and enjoy the company of the family. These terriers can live happily in apartments as long as they get daily walks and their moderate exercise requirements are met. They have lovely, spunky personalities and loads of motivation which helps for training initiatives. The border terrier in particular is not known to excessively bark unless their needs are not being met. They are brave, confident little dogs.

“They have moderate grooming requirements which some owners prefer to a breed that has considerable grooming needs. Preferably, they are hand stripped but can be brushed or clipped as well. Their coats do not mat as easily as a poodle or Labradoodle for example. Hand stripping removes the dead rough outer coat to allow a fresh wire coat to grow in.

“The border terrier, in particular, is wonderful in the house and can chill out for long periods of time but does need to be walked daily.

“I would caution potential owners that these breeds have high prey drives and love to chase critters, which is what they were bred to do! Walking them on leash especially near roads is wise. Installing a strong recall is a good idea too. They aren't the best candidates to live with cats, especially in an apartment.

The best alternative breeds to the French Bulldog. Photo shows West Highland White Terrier puppies
West Highland White Terrier puppies. Photo: Olga Ovcharenko/Shutterstock

“Another thing to note about these terriers is that they are choosy about their doggie friends. Socializing them from an early age is very important but despite your best socialisation efforts, they may still be scrappy and not get along with every dog they meet. Terrier breeds tend to be less tolerant of forward advances by other dogs.

“If you like what you are reading but would prefer something a little less spunky or spiky try a Sealyham terrier or a Dandie Dinmont.”

Cairn Terrier

Which breeds are the best alternatives to the French Bulldog? The Cairn  Terrier, pictured, is one good choice.
Cairn Terrier. Photo: Marina Plevako/Shutterstock

Cairn terriers are little dogs that are generally healthy; indeed, I suggested them in a post I wrote for Psychology Today about the #BreedtoBreathe campaign on brachycephalic dogs.

Dog trainer Eileen Holst-Grubbe, CTC, of Great Day Dog Training says, “While not usually thought of as a first-time-dog-owner dog, the cairn terrier has the personality someone looking at a Frenchie could be attracted to. They have the terrier spunk that might make a novice owner think twice, but I’ve found that with some training (a good professional is the best bet) and other mental enrichment their zest for life can be channeled appropriately. While they are busy little dogs, they have short legs and I've found it doesn't take as much physical activity to tire them out.”

Holst-Grubbe has a personal reason for loving the cairn terrier. She told me, “Oscar was the cairn in my life and he, as well as the few I have trained, all seem to have a sense of humor. “

She added, “Their terrier spiciness might outwit the average person (or dog), but the few cairns I have trained for clients have been quick learners and able to become well-behaved, yet entertaining, members of their families."

Golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers

Which dog breeds are the best alternatives to the French Bulldog? The Golden Retriever, pictured here as a puppy, is one of the suggestions.
Golden Retriever puppy. Photo: PhotoTrippingAmerica/Shutterstock

Golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers need no introduction because they are such popular dogs.

Tim Steele, CTC, of Behavior Matters Academy says, “I realize it may sound trite, but I'd recommend people look at Labrador and golden retrievers. There are good reasons these dogs end up on the most popular lists every year (the Labrador retriever comes in first and goldens come in third out of 193 breeds at

“They are generally friendly, good family dogs, easily trained, and fantastic for people with active lifestyles. You couldn't ask for a better hiking buddy who will love cuddling with you when you get back home.”


Which dog breeds are the best alternatives to the French Bulldog? The Havanese, like the puppy pictured, is on the list of breeds
Havanese puppy. Photo: Dorrotya Mathe/Shutterstock

Havanese are toy dogs that are originate from Cuba, hence the name.

Bonnie Hartney, CTC, of Ocean Park Dog Training suggests the Havanese. She says, “As a professional dog trainer, I spend time with a variety of breeds and mixes. One little dog that has won my heart is the Havanese. They are cheerful, affectionate companion dogs, well-suited to apartment living. Friendly with people, children, and other dogs, the Havanese are popular on neighbourhood walks. They excel in dog sports such as agility, nose work, and obedience but are also content to hang out with their “people.”

“Like the French bulldog, Havanese are relatively quiet. Their beautiful silky coats, which come in a variety of colours and patterns, require brushing or clipping. Whether in a selfie pose or with a new trick, the Havanese are definite people pleasers.”

Italian greyhound

Which dog breeds are the best alternative to the French Bulldog? The Italian Greyhound, pictured, is one of the breeds on the list
Italian Greyhound. Photo: Sarah Weldon/Shutterstock

Italian greyhounds are small, elegant sighthounds that are often called Iggies for short.

Certified dog behavior consultant Kayla Fratt, CDBC, of Journey Dog Training told me Italian greyhounds are apartment-friendly dogs that are healthy and don’t need much exercise.

She says, “Italian greyhounds are notoriously quiet and cuddly. They’re even smaller than Frenchies and often look adorable in sweaters (they get very cold). They’re really nice, easy dogs. Plus, they come in a lot of colors and can still be quite striking.

“Let’s face it, many people love Frenchies because they’re so darn cute. Iggies (Italian greyhounds) also fit that bill!“


Which dog breeds are the best alternative to the French Bulldog? Experts' answers include the poodle, pictured
Toy poodle. Photo: Jagodka/Shutterstock

Poodles come in standard, miniature, and toy sizes and are intelligent dogs.

Dog trainer and canine behavior consultant Melanie Ceronie, PhD, says “For individuals or families thinking about a Frenchie or other brachycephalic breed of dog, I highly recommend considering a poodle as an alternative. There’s much more to a poodle than just a pretty face! Poodles are consistently in the AKC’s top 10 list of most popular dogs in the United States. They are active, highly intelligent, and friendly dogs that make great family companions.

“With three varieties of poodles to choose from – toy (4-6 pounds); miniature (12-20 pounds); and standard (50-70 pounds) – there is a size suitable for everyone. Poodles also come in a wide range of colors, including grey, apricot, black, and white. Poodles are highly trainable dogs that make a great choice for people wishing to participate in dog sports, such as agility, freestyle, nosework, or competition obedience. They are also known to make wonderful therapy and service dogs, as well, due to their friendliness, intelligence, and trainability.

“Because poodles are active dogs, it will be important for those considering the breed to ensure that their dog’s daily exercise and enrichment needs are met. In addition their curly coats require regular brushing and grooming. There's a lot to love about poodles, and I highly recommend them to individuals and families looking for a sociable, active canine companion.”

Shih Tzu

Which dog breeds are the best alternatives to the French Bulldog? Experts' answers include the Shih Tzu, pictured.
Shih Tzu. Photo: rebeccaashworth/Shutterstock

Shih Tzus are popular little dogs because of their playful nature.

Dog trainer Jennifer Gailis, CTC, of Bravo Fido says, “If I had to sum up the Shih Tzu in a few words, it would be happy-go-lucky and playful. The Shih Tzu is easily overlooked as a frou-frou show dog best suited to sit on a fluffy pillow with a bow in their hair but this couldn’t be further from the truth. These are generally playful little dogs with wonderful personalities. Their exercise needs are low compared to working breeds, however, they still need daily activities and play.

“As with any breed, finding a responsible breeder, early socialization, and positive reinforcement training are key to ensuring your Shih Tzu is happy and confident. Shih Tzus are generally extremely social dogs and can make wonderful companions for people of any age. They can be lovely with children and make good family dogs. However, due to the Shih Tzu’s small size, rough handling or overly boisterous kids can be scary. Parental supervision is always recommended.

“The main drawback to the Shih Tzu is their coat which requires regular grooming. Most pet owners choose to give their Shih Tzu a close-cropped puppy cut which gives them an adorable rough and tumble look.

“Shih Tzus make my list of dog breeds recommended for novice owners or anyone looking for a lovely companion. While the breed is recognized for many wonderful traits, please remember all dogs are individuals and there can be variation within the breed.”

This is a brachycephalic breed, so take extra care to find a responsible breeder.


Which dog breeds are the best alternatives to the French Bulldog?
Whippet. Photo: Cora Mueller/Shutterstock

Whippets are good-looking dogs that are taller than Italian greyhounds but smaller than greyhounds.

Dr. Kate Mornement of Pets Behaving Badly–Solutions with Dr Kate told me, "Whippets are a fantastic breed for so many reasons. They are friendly, affectionate, intelligent, compatible with other pets and usually don't bark excessively. They are also very clean and have a low shedding, low maintenance coat. These qualities make them well suited to apartment living (as long as they are adequately exercised).

“Whippets make great companions for most people and living situations including families and are said to be one of the hardiest purebred dogs. Whippets feel the cold, though, and may need an extra layer to keep them warm in the winter months. These lovely little dogs do best when they are allowed inside and included in family life."


Which dog breeds are the best alternatives to the French Bulldog? Mixed breed dogs have to be considered alongside the other breeds on this list
Mixed breed dog. Photo: Lunia/Shutterstock

Mutts are very popular for a variety of reasons, and by definition come in all shapes and colours.

Monash University PhD candidate Mia Cobb of Do You Believe in Dog? recommends a mixed breed dog.

“You want to share your life with a healthy and happy canine companion for as long as possible, yes? Then get a mutt!," she told me. "I’m a huge fan of welcoming rescue dogs of unknown heritage into my home. Perhaps you’re concerned that a mutt won’t behave as predictably as a pure-bred dog, but research from the last two decades repeatedly shows us that we need to treat dogs as individuals. We can see as much behavioural variation within a breed as we can between breeds. We can’t be certain that dogs will behave a certain way just because they belong to a specific breed or breed type."

There are advantages to a mixed breed dog, Cobb says. "Mixed breed dogs live longer than pure bred dogs, and this lifespan advantage is proportional to body size. We know that dogs with squashed (brachycephalic) faces lead lives of compromised health and welfare. If the goal is a happy, healthy and long-lived dog - it’s not going to be one with an extreme body type – it’s really that simple.

"Whichever type of dog you decide to share your home with, be sure to meet the specific individual. I’d advise spending time getting to know them, their personality and activity levels. Do your research to be informed of any breed-related health issues they will face throughout their lifetime - then consider whether you will be a good fit for each other over the next fifteen years. Me? I’ll always be meeting my next mutt at the rescue shelter.”

Kristi Benson says an adult rescue dog has the advantage of being a known quantity. She told me, “Rescues and shelters in your area will likely have a bevy of mid-sized dogs who are fun, hilarious, and with the same amount of energy as a typical Frenchie.

"Plan to do meet and greets with dogs that are at least three years old, since once a dog is about three, they pretty much are who they are: they will be dog-friendly or not, cat-friendly or not, kid-friendly or not, and you can easily identify both their exercise and grooming needs.”

If you really want a French bulldog

Whatever breed of dog you get, research the health issues so you can ask the breeder the right questions.

If you want a French bulldog, it’s important to find a responsible breeder. Ask them whether the parents have needed any medical procedures; a good breeder will be happy to talk about the health of their puppies. Dogs that have had to have surgery for Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome should not be bred from. Make sure you see the puppy with mom, and pay attention to whether the mom seems healthy or is snorting or wheezing.

Ask the breeder if the puppies were born by caesarian section, and if the mom has had multiple caesarians. In some breeds, including the French bulldog, the majority of litters are born by caesarian section because they cannot safely give birth naturally. In some places, guidelines or legislation mean bitches can no longer be bred if they have had two caesarian sections.

Benson says “Check with the Frenchie breeders in your area for any who are breeding for longer snouts (and to address the other conformation issues with these dogs). Supporting these breeders will support changes in the breed standard, which is what many dog advocates are seeking.”

Benson also suggests that you consider a cross of a French bulldog with another breed. “Search the rescues and shelters in your area for Frenchie crosses. Crosses often share characteristics with their parent breeds, but can be healthier and more structurally sound.“

Remember that French bulldogs are also available from shelters and rescues. In this case you get the advantage of their health having already been checked – and any necessary veterinary procedures having been carried out. Plus, of course, you are giving a home to a dog who badly needs one.

The video below shows what the Mayhew animal welfare charity in London, UK, did for one of the French bulldogs that came into their care.

Summary: French bulldogs and alternatives

French bulldogs are wonderful dogs, but they can have serious health issues as a result of their looks. Ultimately, we need kennel clubs and breeders to find a way to solve this problem (for example, in Sweden, dogs that have had surgery for brachycephalic issues cannot be bred).

If you want a dog like a French bulldog, the breeds listed in this post are all great choices for people who love Frenchies, as are mutts. It’s important to remember that French bulldogs are available in shelters and rescues too.

Whatever breed you decide on, remember to research the potential health issues so that you know which questions to ask the breeder, and always see the puppy with mom. Check out my post on how to choose a puppy for more tips.

And if you’re getting a puppy, don’t forget to sign up for a good puppy class (see also: how to choose a dog trainer).

Join over 2,500 animal science enthusiasts and subscribe to Companion Animal Psychology.

Further Reading

Choosing dogs that can breathe (on my Psychology Today blog)
Why do people choose certain dogs  (here on Companion Animal Psychology)
‘This is a calamity’: The surgeons keeping pugs and bulldogs alive by Simon Usborne at The Guardian.
Dogs deserve better (RSPCA)
Veterinarian Dr. Emma Milne has a page about the responsible use of pets in advertising (and you’ll find lots of animal welfare info on her website too).
What the pug is going on? by Mia Cobb, Do You Believe in Dog

Evans, K. M., & Adams, V. J. (2010). Proportion of litters of purebred dogs born by caesarean section. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 51(2), 113-118.
Fawcett, A., Barrs, V., Awad, M., Child, G., Brunel, L., Mooney, E., Martinez-Taboada, F., McDonald, B. & McGreevy, P. (2019). Consequences and Management of Canine Brachycephaly in Veterinary Practice: Perspectives from Australian Veterinarians and Veterinary Specialists. Animals, 9(1), 3.
Packer, R. M. A., Murphy, D., & Farnworth, M. J. (2017). Purchasing popular purebreds: investigating the influence of breed-type on the pre-purchase motivations and behaviour of dog owners.  Animal Welfare 26(2), 181-201.
Sandøe P, Kondrup SV,, Bennett PC,, Forkman B,, Meyer I,, Proschowsky HF,, Serpell, JA,, & Lund, TB (2017). Why do people buy dogs with potential welfare problems related to extreme conformation and inherited disease? A representative study of Danish owners of four small dog breeds. PLOSOne

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Animal Lovers on the Books that Changed Their Lives

The books about animals that had a profound effect and even caused a change of direction.

Animal lovers on the books that changed their lives, illustrated by a Golden Retriever sleeping in front of a bookshelf

Sometimes books can have a surprising effect on us.  The words mingle in our brain and make some kind of magic that percolates out into the real world.

I was curious to know which books about animals have affected people, and so I put out a call asking people about the animal book that changed their life. These are their answers.

Dog Sense by John Bradshaw

Emily Tronetti, MS, CPDT-KA, of Heal to Howl told me,

“In 2014, I was working as a veterinary receptionist and had my own pet sitting and canine massage business. One day, at a bookstore, I found the book Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet by Dr. John Bradshaw.

This book changed everything I thought I knew about dogs. I was amazed by the long and interconnected evolutionary history between humans and dogs. I was fascinated by how dogs perceive the world, their emotional lives and how these factors and more may impact our relationships with them. Dog Sense made me realize that I had so much more to learn about this species we share our lives with. I wanted to be a better dog guardian and professional, and I hoped to share this knowledge with others to help them do the same.

I noticed that Dr. Bradshaw was referred to as an “anthrozoologist.” Inspired by his book, I googled this to learn more. One of the first search results was the anthrozoology program at Canisius College. Upon further research, this program seemed like the perfect fit for me. I was accepted into the program in 2015 and embarked on an incredible educational journey that changed my career, how I view and think about the world and more! To this day, I’m deeply grateful for Dr. John Bradshaw and his book. I truly wouldn’t be where I am today had I not read it!”

Animal lovers on the books that changed their lives: Dog Sense book cover

The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson

Two people told me about the effect reading The Culture Clash had on them.

Joan Hunter Mayer MBA, certified professional dog trainer at Inquisitive Canine and inventor of TransPaw Gear   told me,

“The year was 2004. We had had our dog Poncho for about a year, working with a trainer who used both positive reinforcement and alpha rolling as her go-to training approach. We were new pet parents, and at the time didn’t know about using specific techniques. This trainer knew that both my husband and myself were into science-based learning and suggested we read a book called The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson. I read the entire book in one evening. Couldn’t put it down! I found it ironic that this trainer would recommend the book, since it talks about the adverse effects of punishment, but I’m thankful she did.

Not only did this book change my life, but it changed Poncho’s and every other dog I have worked with. I ended up becoming a certified professional dog trainer, even attended Jean’s Academy for Dog Trainers. It’s safe to say this book is my bible.”

Animal lovers on the books that changed their lives: The Culture Clash book cover

Nickala Squire CTC, dog trainer at Carefree Canine told me,

“All my life I knew I wanted to work with dogs as a career but as I began my dog training journey I didn’t know where to start. I was under the common (mistaken) impression that dog training was something you figure out on your own, that self-discovery and personal experiences were just as valid learning tools as formal education. Most of my knowledge therefore, came from TV, online forums and the local dog trainer at the time. I couldn’t get enough of it! When someone (now a friend) challenged my beliefs in those online forums and suggested that I may actually be causing my dog emotional suffering, I was both distraught and intrigued. She pointed me to various resources including The Culture Clash. This was really my first experience reading anything evidence based about dog training. It was done so in a way however that was easy to get hooked on, with humorous and intelligent analogies. The book changed my entire life. Not only did I realize that dog training was a factual and measurable profession, it opened my eyes to the biases and mistaken beliefs I had. If I had so easily and wholeheartedly been misled by things I saw on TV, what else could I be wrong about?

I consider myself a compassionate skeptic, but I was not always this way. I am forever grateful to that friend for leading me to The Culture Clash and to Jean Donaldson for writing it. My life would not have been the same without it!”

Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West by Marguerite Henry.

Allison Hunter-Frederick, Lincoln Pet Culture, said,

“There are a lot of recent books that have impacted my choices in animal welfare, but if I were to pick just one book that changed my life it would have to be a classic. I read Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West as a child. It inspired my love of horses. My husband and I once got to see mustangs. When the rare opportunity rises, we have ridden horses. Mostly though, my admiration is from afar. Instead the reason why I list Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West as a book that changed my life is that it showed me what an activist can do. Wild Horse Annie helped stop the eradication of mustangs. I don't expect to do anything as amazing as her, but in my small corner of the world I am doing what I can to improve the world for cats. Wild Horse Annie will forever be an inspiration to me.”

Animal lovers on the books that changed their lives: Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West book cover

The Mammals of British Columbia by Ian McTaggart Cowan and Charles J. Guiguet

Janice Holly Booth, the Anxious Advenurista, told me,

“The animal book that changed my life is called The Mammals of British Columbia, by Ian McTaggart Cowan and Charles J. Guiguet. First published in 1956 and loved by me to this very day, it's a comprehensive list of hooved, winged, and webbed animals that live in the province where I was born. Even before I could read, I would pore over the book and its beautiful black and white illustrations by Frank L. Beebe. A shrew diving in water, little bubbles coming from its nose; a sky full of big-tailed bats; a Baird dolphin leaping from the ocean. Everything that could be known about the animal was in that book, including drawings of its skull, its footprint, its teeth. And when I learned to read, I memorized every detail about every animal. The book fired up my deep curiosity about the animals living in the wilds around me, and encouraged me to look for signs of them whenever I would take a walk. Being able to identify a footprint in the mud was always a thrill. The book was really the beginning of a lifelong adoration and deep respect for the natural world.

It also inspired me to become an artist, to paint animals with the kind of realism and life-force that Beebe had done in this book.

As I write this to you, I have a copy next to me, from 1978. I still have the book, even though I no longer live in British Columbia, or Canada for that matter. The book - as they say - is a keeper.”

Animal lovers on the books that changed their lives: The Mammals of British Columbia book cover

Diet for a New America by John Robbins

Dianna Bari, president of db Media, says, 

Diet for a New America by John Robbins changed my life 28 years ago. I had been on a path to vegetarianism as a teenager. There were early signs. For hotdog day at elementary school, I would throw the wiener in the trash and just eat the bun with the condiments. Ditto for hamburgers during family barbeques. I would feed my cat under the table the meat on my plate. I was reading a lot of literature about how animals were treated by human beings and it resonated with me at an early age. I rescued birds, mice, rabbits and other animals as a child. Neighbors would call me if they found an injured bird. I stopped eating meat by the time I was 16 years old but what I still ate were Chicken Sante Fe burgers at Wendy's.

I think it was because the chicken was more disguised being that it had a battered outer coating. Also, I think chickens are given the least amount of compassion, unfortunately. I was guilty of that - I thought of them as ugly and stupid. But then I read Diet for a New America - and I tell people the story still to this day. I haven't read the book in 28 years so I am just going off of my memory and what resonated for me but the book takes on every angle of why people should not eat animals - for the environment, moral reasons and our health. One chapter focused on a study that was being done on hens. Researchers gave a hen duck eggs to sit on and she sat on them - even though duck eggs are bigger than chicken eggs. They thought that perhaps the hen was too stupid to realize they were not her own eggs. But when the ducks hatched, the hen took care of them. Again, they thought she was too stupid to realize they were not her own.

Then something miraculous happened. Chickens don't go in water and don't like it. But this hen knew the ducks she was taking care of needed to learn how to swim so she led all of them to a nearby pond and nudged each of them in so they could learn how to swim. The day I read that was the day I gave up chicken and I was ashamed that I hadn't expanded my compassion to chickens before reading that book. My life has always been about animals - I truly value them more than people and my life is about protecting them-both in my professional life in PR with clients like Air Shepherd and in my personal life through dog rescue. There were many factors and resources that opened my eyes along the way but that book served as a life-changing turning point.”

Animal lovers on the books that changed their lives: Diet for a New America

Animal Liberation by Peter Singer

Jackie Johnston CTC CPDT-KA CSAT dog trainer and behaviour consultant at Believe in Your Dog

Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. This book was recommended by my dog training mentor, Jean Donaldson. I had already started a career in force free dog training but I had not considered the wellbeing of other species in a very long time. After reading this book, my diet and the way I looked at food and every species of animal - not just dogs - completely shifted. A favorite quote: '...pain is pain, and the importance of preventing unnecessary pain and suffering does not diminish because the being that suffers is not a member of our species.'”

Animal lovers on the books that changed their lives: Animal Liberation cover

For more book suggestions, check out the Animal Book Club or my Amazon store:

Is there a book about animals (fiction, non-fiction, or poetry) that changed your life? If you’d like your answer to be considered for inclusion in a future post on Companion Animal Psychology, email me on companimalpsych at gmail dot com. Be sure to put ‘The animal book that changed my life’ in the subject line, and remember to include your name and website (if you have one). Thanks. Entries may be subject to minor copy edits. I will let you know if your answer is chosen.

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Companion Animal Psychology News March 2019

Animal cruelty investigations, cat music, dog parks, and interviews with dogs...the latest Companion Animal Psychology news.

Companion Animal Psychology Newsletter March 2019

Favourites from around the web this month:

If you’ve ever tried to get a wriggly puppy into a harness, this post is for you. Gearing up: How to harness your dog or puppy by Joan Grassbaugh Forry CTC.

“The one symptom I cannot ignore, however, is my dog’s tiny head, resting on my leg during a portion of the day when she’s usually ignoring me.” How your dog knows when you’re sick, by Amanda Mull.

"When you’re training a dog using a good plan and good treats, the dog is so keen to work it feels almost criminal." Kristi Benson CTC ponders the question, is training your dog unnatural?

“I have been leading a team studying animal cruelty investigation work and workers for the last few years. It is difficult research, to put it mildly.” Preventing animal cruelty is physically and emotionally risky for front-line animal workers by Dr. Kendra Coulter.

Should self-driving cars spare people over pets? Prof. Hal Herzog on the results of the Moral Machine experiment.

“In Chicago and other cities, the demand for pet-friendly public space has boomed. But many communities see off-leash parks as heralds of gentrification." Kriston Capps asks, are dog parks exclusionary?

And while we’re on the subject of dog parks, if you want one, you want it done right. “But what I really want in a dog park is good people.” My dream dog park by Tim Steele CTC. Don't forget to leave a comment to say what's on your list.

“Their lovely ears are not only are used to hear what's happening around them, but also to send various messages to other dogs and to humans.” How dogs hear and speak with the world around them by Dr. Marc Bekoff looks at dogs ears and at the communicative noises dogs make.

Cat music: “its distinguishing factors perhaps not so much the quality of the tunes, but the sounds created for their similarities to purring and other sounds that cats might find attractive (like squeaking noises and suckling sounds)." Dr. Mikel Delgado looks at a new study in can music make cats less stressed out?

The Animal Training Academy interviewed Jean Donaldson of The Academy for Dog Trainers about how she got into dog training, the problem of burnout, and fear of dogs.

Sound bites: Dogs on the microphone. A great set of photos at The Atlantic of dogs (including famous ones) being interviewed by the media. Put together by Alan Taylor.

Photos from behind the scenes at North America’s truffle dog competition. By Helen Carefoot with photos by David Williams.

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Animal Book Club

This month, the Companion Animal Psychology Book Club is reading Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw.

Cat Sense, this  month's choice for the Companion Animal Psychology book club

It’s a fascinating account of the evolutionary history, biology, and behaviour of domestic cats.

You can find a list of all the books in my Amazon store:

Here at Companion Animal Psychology

I’m quoted in this post by Marc Bekoff for Psychology Today on why some dogs like to be touched but others don’t.

I share a few tips on senior dogs in this Bustle article, 11 ways to take care of your dog as it gets older.

I’m quoted in this piece in by Linda Lombardi in National Geographic, about some new research on the personality traits of dogs and their owners. I also wrote about this study here on Companion Animal Psychology:  Dogs’ personality traits vary with age (and dogs tend to be like their owners).

I have a piece on cognitive aging in dogs in the Spring 2019 edition of West Coast Veterinarian.

This month I published Kristi Benson’s thoughtful reflections on the ways in which dog training is like fiction. If you like fiction, or dog training, you’ll enjoy the read. It's a beautifully written piece. Into the middle of things: dog training lessons from the best fiction.

I wrote about a study on the effects of training cats to use their carrier when it comes to vet visits. Spoiler alert: cat carrier training helps! Cats trained to use their carriers find vet visits less stressful.

And I also wrote about the differences in lifespan between dogs of normal weight and those that are overweight. I was surprised at how large the difference is for some breeds; it’s sobering reading.

Most of all this month I've been busy working on copy edits for my book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. I can't wait to share more about it with you. Wag will be published in February 2020.

Pets in Art

This month’s picture is an illustration called Useful Domestic Dogs, which is in the Wellcome Collection. It shows a cur or cattle dog, a bull or beast dog, a rough water dog, a Mastiff or guard dog, a Dalmatian or coach dog, a shepherds dog, a Newfoundland or house dog, and a Terrier or vermin dog.

Useful Domestic Dogs, this month's Pets in Art in the Companion Animal Psychology newsletter for March 2019
Image credit: Wellcome Collection

The etching with watercolour is by Thomas Kelly of London, and the Wellcome Collection does not give a date for it. However, I found an old listing on eBay that says it is from Buffon’s Natural History, published in London in 1860.

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Dogs' Personality Traits Vary With Age (and Dogs Tend to Be Like Their Owners)

Dogs are most trainable during middle age, and there are some fascinating links between the personality of dogs and their owners, research shows.

Dog's personality traits vary with age, and there are links between the personality of dogs and of their owners..
Photo: dezy/Shutterstock

Do you ever think much about the different personalities of dogs? New research looks at the personality profiles of dogs (and their owners) and finds that dog personality seems to change with age.

As well, the owner’s personality is linked to the dog’s personality. The study, by Dr. William Chopik and Dr. Jonathan Weaver (both Michigan State University) is published in Journal of Research and Personality.

The results show that some personality traits are more pronounced in dogs in middle age (6-8 years).

This was the case for responsiveness to training, which peaked at age 7.44. Younger dogs were rated as less responsive to training, and older dogs were not much different from middle-aged ones. As well, dogs scored higher on this trait if they were trained by their owners.

Aggression towards people was lower in young dogs, but peaked between 6 and 7 years (age 6.69) and then remained steady. Aggression towards people was lower in female dogs, dogs that had been spayed/neutered, and purebred dogs.

Older dogs are less aggressive towards other animals. Aggression towards other animals peaked between 7 and 8 years (age 7.74) and then began to decline with increasing age. This trait was lowest amongst dogs that had been spayed/neutered and that are purebred.

As you might expect, young dogs tended to be more active and excitable. Dogs who had been to obedience class and/or were trained by their owner were more likely to be active and excitable.

There was no effect of age on fearfulness, which could affect dogs of any age. Dogs that had been to obedience class, were spayed/neutered, and were purebred, were less likely to be fearful.

Not surprisingly, when the researchers looked at whether or not the dogs had bitten a person, this was more likely in dogs that were rated as aggressive towards people. It was more likely in dogs that had been trained by the owner, which may be surprising but perhaps means the owner tried to train the dog following the bite (this is not clear from the data). Older dogs and male dogs were also more likely to have bitten someone.

The results for aggression are interesting because earlier research has shown that aggression towards people and aggression towards animals are distinct. In other words, a dog that is aggressive towards other dogs is not necessarily aggressive towards people and vice versa. The new study did not distinguish between aggression towards family members and aggression towards strangers.

As well, the finding that some personality traits vary with age is in line with a previous study that suggests there is a developmental onset to some behaviour problems in dogs, at least in Guide dogs.

The new study also compared the personality traits of owners with the personality traits of the dogs. Of course the Big 5 personality traits for people do not exactly correspond with the five personality traits for dogs. However, there were some similarities.

The scientists write,
“Some of the most intriguing results found were instances of personality “compatibility” between owners and their dogs. For example, extraverts rated their dogs as more active/excitable; conscientious owners rated their dogs as more responsive to training; agreeable owners rated their dogs as less aggressive; neurotic owners rated their dogs as more fearful.”

Earlier research has also found a link between the personality of dogs and of their owners. One study published last year had broadly similar results for personality; it also found that choice of dog training methods does not mediate the link between dog and owner personality, but that there is a link between depression in men and the likelihood of using aversive methods.

Finally, the scientists found that reports of a better quality relationship were linked to people who scored highly on agreeableness, and also higher for women than for men. Canine characteristics associated with a better relationship quality were being more responsive to training, more active and excitable, and also if the dog was older.

As with other such research, this new study is just a snapshot in time and so it does not tell us whether people are choosing dogs with personalities similar to theirs, or if, by sharing their lives together, dogs become more like their people.

1,681 people completed a questionnaire that included the Big 5 personality questionnaire for themselves as well as ratings of their dog’s personality. As well, they were asked about the dog’s health, whether the dog had ever bitten someone, and their relationship with the dog.

Dogs aged 1.5 weeks to 16 years were included in the study, and about half of them were purebred.

The results of this study are fascinating, and it would be nice to see some longitudinal research to follow this up.

The scientists write that in future, they would be interested to look at how different training experiences affect canine personality traits.

What kind of personality does your dog have?

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Chopik, W. J., & Weaver, J. R. (2019). Old dog, new tricks: Age differences in dog personality traits, associations with human personality traits, and links to important outcomes. Journal of Research in Personality, 79:94-108.

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The 2019 BC SPCA Animal Behaviour Science Symposium

The BC SPCA Animal Behaviour Science Symposium takes place 7-10 June 2019.

The BC SPCA Animal Behaviour Science Symposium 7-10 June 2019

The keynote speaker is Jean Donaldson of The Academy for Dog Trainers.

Other speakers include Dr. Chris Pachel, Debbie Martin, Dr. Claudia Richter, Kim Monteith, Dr. Karen van Haaften, Sarah Pennington, Renée Erdman, Lisbeth Plant, and myself.

As well, there is a learning lab on humane handling and cooperative veterinary care.

Full details are available on the Animal Behaviour Science Symposium website.

Maybe I'll see you there?

Overweight Dogs Don't Live as Long, and Scientists Have Calculated How Much Less

Research on 12 popular dog breeds finds the average difference in life span between normal weight and overweight or obese dogs, and it makes for worrying reading.

Overweight dogs have shorter lives, and scientists have calculated by how much. The effects are worse for small dogs like the Yorkshire Terrier, pictured, showing the importance of keeping your dog to a normal weight. If in doubt, as your vet.
Photo: Caz Harris Photography/Shutterstock

We know that being overweight or obese is bad for pet dogs, but just how bad is it?

For the first time, scientists have worked out the difference in average life span for normal weight and overweight pet dogs of 12 breeds. The study by Carina Salt (WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition) et al. is published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

The scientists looked at some of the most popular breeds of all sizes, from Chihuahuas and Pomeranians to Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds.

The study only looked at dogs that have been spayed or neutered.

Co-author Prof. Alex German (University of Liverpool) told Science  Daily,
"Owners are often unaware that their dog is overweight, and many may not realise the impact that it can have on health. What they may not know is that, if their beloved pet is too heavy, they are more likely to suffer from other problems such as joint disease, breathing issues, and certain types of cancer, as well as having a poorer quality of life. These health and wellbeing issues can significantly impact how long they live."

The biggest differences in life span were found for little dogs. For a normal-weight male Yorkshire Terrier, the average life span is 16.2. However, if the dog is overweight, the average life span is 13.7 – a reduction of 2 and a half years. This was the largest difference found.

Big dogs had a smaller difference, but still had a reduced lifespan if they were overweight. A normal-weight male German Shepherd lives for 12.5 years, whereas his overweight counterpart only lives 12.1 years on average. This was the smallest difference found in the study.

"Most pet owners feel that dogs’ lives are too short as it is. This data shows how serious the effect of being overweight is on dogs"

The corresponding figures for female German Shepherds are 13.1 and 12.5 years, respectively, while for female Yorkshire Terriers the average lifespan is 15.5 if normal weight and 13.5 if overweight.

Amongst medium size dogs, a male Beagle of normal weight lives 15.2 years and his overweight counterpart lives only 13.2 years. For female Beagles, those of normal weight have a life span of 15.3 compared to 13.3 for those who are overweight.

The breeds included in the study were the Yorkshire Terrier, Pomeranian, Chihuahua, Shih Tzu, American Cocker Spaniel, Dachshund, Beagle, Pit Bull, Boxer, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever and German Shepherd.

The results are shown in the table below.

The life span of overweight dogs compared to normal weight dogs for 12 breeds. The effects of being overweight are worse for small dogs than large dogs.
Average life span for normal and overweight dogs. Reproduced from Salt et al (2019) under Creative Commons licence.

The researchers looked at anonymized data from BANFIELD Pet Hospitals (almost all in the US) from 1994 to 2015. Normal weight and overweight dogs of the 12 breeds in the study were matched at around age 7.5 for the purposes of analysis.

The dog’s weight was assessed by a 5-point Body Condition Score from 2010, and on a 3-point scale before then. In the analysis, dogs were classified as either underweight, overweight, or a normal weight.

The study included data from over 50,000 dogs. Although only 12 popular breeds were considered, it seems likely that the results would also apply to other breeds.

Overweight dogs have a shorter life span, and this post shows how much shorter for 12 popular dog breeds. Photo shows a spaniel in the trunk of a car after a walk.
Photo: Josh Powell/Shutterstock

This research cannot explain why overweight dogs tend to have a shorter life. As well, we have to remember that dogs typically don’t have a natural death but are often euthanized due to quality of life issues, and treatment costs may play a role in that if people are unable to afford treatment.

The study data covers a long time period, and there have been medical advances in this time.

Nonetheless, the results show that if your dog is overweight, it would be wise to do something about it.

Many owners find it difficult to judge if their dog is a normal weight or not, and it is also easy to be in denial about this. If you are not sure, ask your veterinarian. If your dog is overweight, speak to your vet about the best ways to get your dog down to a normal weight.

Research also shows that owners of overweight dogs need to change their own behaviour. Strategies that may be useful include setting specific goals for behaviours (such as how far you will walk the dog) and outcomes, as well as considering strategies to use to help you manage your dog’s food intake.

I think most pet owners feel that dogs’ lives are too short as it is. This data shows how serious the effect of being overweight is on dogs, and therefore how important it is to maintain your dog’s weight at a normal level.

The paper is open access (link below).

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Salt, C., Morris, P. J., Wilson, D., Lund, E. M., & German, A. J. (2019). Association between life span and body condition in neutered client‐owned dogs. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 33(1), 89-99.

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Companion Animal Psychology Book Club March 2019

"To live in harmony with our cats... we first need to understand their inherited quirks."

The Animal Book Club choice for March 2019 is Cat Sense by John Bradshaw

This month, the Companion Animal Psychology Book Club has chosen Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw.

From the back cover,

"In Cat Sense, renowned anthrozoologist John Bradshaw takes us further into the mind of the domestic cat than ever before, using cutting-edge scientific research to dispel lingering myths and explain the true nature of our feline friends. Tracing the cat's evolution from lone predator to domesticated companion, Bradshaw shows that although cats and humans have lived together for eight thousand years, cats remain independent, predatory, and wary of contact with their own kind, qualities that often clash with our modern lifestyles. To live in harmony with our cats, Bradshaw explains, we first need to understand their inherited quirks including understanding their body language, and managing both their natural hunting instincts and their relationships with other cats. A must-read for any cat lover, Cat Sense offers humane, penetrating insights about the domestic cat that challenge our most basic assumptions and promise to dramatically improve our pets' lives--and ours."

A full list of all the books can be found in my Amazon  store:

Will you be reading too? Leave your comments on the book!

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Different riders recognize that they have an exceptional bond with their ponies, and they are correct. Different steeds and their riders ent...