2020 Event

Due to circumstances beyond our control there will be no IFAAB in 2020. 

Plans for 2021 and beyond are unknown at this time.

Please check back. 

2019 Event

Twenty-eighth Annual Meeting  Phoenix, AZ
Friday, February 8th – Sunday February 10th

We will meet at the ASU Psychology Department 2nd Floor Library on the ASU Campus  
950 S McAllister Ave., Tempe, AZ.

Thank you to Mr. Mark Hines and the KONG Company for their generous support of IFAAB.  Please thank Mark when you see him!

PRE-CONFERENCE EXCURSION:  Dr. Lisa Gunter has arranged for a behind the scenes tour, just for IFAAB attendees of the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center  on Thursday, February 7th at 2:30pm.   We’ll tour their medical facility and then spend most of the time seeing the animals in their various enclosures.  So make your travel plans accordingly!

Please see recommendations for nearby hotels below. Discount codes will be provided on the registration page.

The Forum is limited to the first 25 registrants with acceptable abstracts. This meeting is for people who are experienced in the field, not for those wanting assistance, mentoring, or guidance to enter the field. Everyone who attends must present. Space is limited so we regret we cannot accommodate visitors and onlookers.

2018 Event

Twenty-seventh Annual Meeting will be held in New Orleans, LA
Monday, February 26th – Wednesday February 28th, 2018
Hotel Provincial
1024 Rue Chartres  
New Orleans, LA  70116
Telephone:  (504) 581-4995 Fax:  (504) 581-1018

The Forum is limited to the first 25 registrants with acceptable abstracts. This meeting is for people who are experienced in the field, not for those wanting assistance, mentoring, or guidance to enter the field. Everyone who attends must present. Space is limited so we regret we cannot accommodate visitors and onlookers.

2016 Abstracts

Updated December 3, 2015

WHAT’S UP?—Dog-to-Dog Greetings

Camille Ward, MS, PhD, CAAB

What’s in a dog greeting? Popular opinions on what dog-to-dog greetings look like and what they may mean abound, but there is a scarcity of data on the topic. Understanding the form and structure of greetings are prerequisites to hypotheses testing of function. Through observations and data collected on greetings at a dog park in Ann Arbor, MI, I will present the results of a pilot project aimed at systematically describing off-leash greeting behavior between dogs. I collected data based on dyadic interactions and measured variables related to initiations, sniffing, potential status (using body posture indicators), and interaction outcome. Such data could be used to further work on greeting behaviors from both evolutionary (comparative) and applied perspectives.

The Validity of a Fake Dog for Assessing Dog Sociability in Dogs from Rescue Hoarders

Pamela Reid, PhD, CAAB and Sharon Wirant, MA, ACAAB, KPA CTP, CPDT, CBCC-KA

Evaluating intraspecies sociability in shelter dogs is time consuming, risky and requires suitable stimulus dogs. Variation in stimulus dogs is also likely to strongly influence test dogs’ reactions. To avoid these complications, more and more shelters are opting to use a fake dog as a stand-in for a real dog. However, Shabelansky et al. (2015) found that a fake dog was only useful for identifying friendly behavior. When it came to fearful or aggressive behavior, there was little agreement between test dogs’ reactions to the fake and real dogs. In contrast, Reid et al. (unpublished) found a reasonable correlation between responses to fake and real dogs in a large population of dogs seized from a dogfighting case. In this study, we examined the validity of the fake dog for evaluating dogs removed from rescue hoarding situations.

Relationship Between Scarring and Dog Aggression in Gamebred Pit Bull Type Dogs

Katherine Miller, PhD, CAAB, CPDT and Pamela Reid, PhD CAAB

The ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team and Forensics Sciences departments deploy nationally to large scale cases of animal cruelty, such as dogfighting. The behavior team evaluates the behavior of the animals, including dog-dog aggression, while the forensic medical team evaluates the health and condition of the animals, including the presence of wounds and scars. To our knowledge, no analysis has been conducted to determine the relationship between the presence and extent of wounds or scarring and dog aggression among dogs seized from professional or amateur dogfighters. Heavily scarred dogs are often assumed to be highly dog aggressive as the result of a history of being pitted against other dogs. However it has been observed that many dogs seized from dogfighting investigations, including some bearing scars, are not aggressive to other dogs in their behavior evaluation. On the other hand, some dogs with no or very few scars have been found to have dog-aggressive tendencies. Having information concerning the validity of utilizing the extent of scarring as a proxy for dog aggression would assist animal welfare organizations in making more informed decisions with respect to disposition, and potentially reduce the euthanasia of non-dog aggressive pit bull type dogs. The ASPCA conducted an analysis of data on injuries observed and behavior towards other dogs, using information already gathered by the behavior and forensic medical teams during four criminal dogfighting cases. This study examined the strength of the relationship between these variables, and whether location of scarring on the dog’s body, age, and sex of the dog are factors in this relationship.

Why Social Separation in Animals Hurts: Examining the Neurocognitive Overlap Between Physical and Social Pain

Franklin D. McMillan, DVM

Research in humans and nonhuman animals has provided compelling evidence that social pain and physical pain rely on shared neurobiological substrates. Substantial neuropsychological and neuroimaging research in humans has revealed that the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and anterior insula, brain regions known for their role in processing the affective unpleasantness of physical pain, are also activated during the unpleasant experience of social separation. The dACC has also been shown to relate to social pain distress in nonhuman mammals. For example, ablating the dACC in squirrel monkeys eliminates the production of distress vocalizations, and lesions of the ACC in macaques leads to decreases in affiliative behavior. Conversely, electrical stimulation of the dACC leads to the production of distress vocalizations in rhesus monkeys. Furthermore, in animals and humans, physical and social pain are alleviated many of the same interventions. Studies provide evidence that an enhanced sensitivity to physical pain accompanies an enhanced sensitivity to social pain in humans. Perhaps most intriguing, acetaminophen – a drug effective in alleviating physical pain – has recently been found to alleviate social pain in humans.

With evidence that in humans and animals social pain can actually be more distressing than physical pain, these findings have profound consequences for the well-being of all social animals. But of special concern is social pain in the domestic dog. It is now generally assumed that domestication in dogs enhanced the dependency on and attachment to humans, which would imply a strengthening of the social bonding emotions. This would suggest the likelihood that social pain may be more intense in socially deprived dogs than in other species.

A better understanding of the neuropsychology of physical and social pain may lead to improved care for social animals as well as new therapies to alleviate the emotional suffering association with social deprivation.

Small Animal Veterinarians Perspective On Behavioral Diagnoses For Use Of Fluoxetine

Gagandeep Kaur, DVM and Victoria Voith, DVM, MSc, MA, PhD, DACVB

Dogs and cats are frequently presented to veterinarians for behavioral problems and psychopharmacological treatment. Arriving at a differential or definitive diagnosis for behavioral problems, based on the history and signs described by the owners can be a challenge for the general veterinary practitioner. Our preliminary study showed the use of fluoxetine for a wide range of behavioral disorders in dogs and cats, but how practitioners arrive at behavioral diagnoses is not clear. Subsequently data was collected from small animal veterinarians who agreed to participate further in the study. They were asked to describe what behaviors did they consider indicative of their diagnoses. Specific behaviors used by the practitioners to reach the diagnoses were described. The practitioners also provided additional information on diagnostic criteria and terminology to describe behaviors. For dogs, 40 anxiety related problems were described by 32 practitioners. For cats, 25 problems related to feline elimination behaviors were described by19 practitioners. The questions regarding reaching the behavioral diagnoses were answered in a variety of ways. Behavioral signs and terminology varied widely among the participants. This study shows a variety of terminology used by the general practitioners in veterinary behavior medicine. This demonstrates the importance of obtaining exact descriptions of behaviors when communicating behavior problems among interdisciplinary professionals.

Maximizing the Fear Extinction Process

Mindy Waite, PhD

A variety of client cases require the planning of fear extinction procedures by the behaviorist, which must then be implemented by the client. Because the client typically has limited time and energy, it is critical that the procedural setup is optimized as much as possible. This requires a familiarity with the most recent and/or relevant research on fear extinction procedures and processes. This presentation will cover basic and applied research on the processes of fear acquisition and extinction as well as fear extinction procedures to provide a background for effective extinction planning.

Less Stress for Veterinary Patients

Ellen Lindell, VMD, DACVB

There are many consequences of fear and distress in animals. While well studied in shelters and laboratories, the consequences of distress on animals at the veterinary hospital has received little formal discussion. This oversight is changing rapidly, and the Fear Free movement is underway.

This talk will discuss documented support for the need to reduce patient distress when veterinary treatment is required. The first step is to help clients and veterinarians recognize signs of distress in veterinary patients. Also included will be a discussion of the Fear Free movement. Progress to date as well as future plans will be discussed.

Clients need to learn how to advocate for their pets, gently approaching their veterinarians when they feel their pet is unnecessarily uncomfortable. Trainers can work with their local veterinarians, offering services designed to teach patients skills that will facilitate handling. Discussion will include ideas for networking with clinicians to assure that bad does not stay normal in the veterinary setting.

Comparative Trauma in People and Dogs—From Diagnosing to Treating

Patricia McConnell, PhD, CAAB

Psychological Trauma is defined as an event or experience that completely overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope. This presentation will initiate an inquiry into three basic questions related to trauma dogs:

 * If we accept that both dogs and people can be traumatized, (which I will argue), how would our experiences be similar? How would they be different? [And how would the answers to that question help us understand it in dogs?]

 * What can treatments for human victims of trauma teach us about treating trauma in dogs? What about the other direction—from dogs to people?

 * What do we know, both from science and anecdotal experience, that can help us evaluate the practice of using dogs help people recover from trauma? [There might not be time for this issue, but I add it here in case we do.]

I would like this presentation to include a lot of discussion about these issues, from understanding the effects of psychological trauma in mammals, to discussions about how to help dogs recover from it.

Hunters Helpers, Dumpster Divers, and Man’s Best Friend: A Novel Account for the Origin of Dogs

Clive Wynne, PhD

Where we believe dogs came from informs what we think dogs are and how we should best live with them. In the last decade, an account of the origin of dogs that is at least as old as Darwin has experienced a resurgence. According to Pat Shipman, Mark Derr, John Franklin and others, dogs arose when people selected the most tractable wolf pups to be the parents of the next generation and, by artificial selection, created dogs. This idea was opposed by Ray and Lorna Coppinger 15 years ago, and their arguments are as valid against Shipman, Derr, Franklin as they were against earlier advocates of this viewpoint. However, the Coppingers’ position, that dogs arose as a byproduct of agriculture in the Neolithic, has not stood up to the accumulating evidence for dogs prior to the onset of agriculture. I will present a new view of the origins of dogs that leans heavily on the ideas of Angela Perri, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. Perri recognizes that phenotypic dogs arose before the end of the last ice age; they did not, however, become valuable to people until the climate warmed and humans needed assistance hunting in the denser forests that arose at that time. At no stage did humans intentionally select among wolves – and yet the result was a companion as versatile and practical as anything that has fallen into human hands since.

Citizen Science — Fad or Meaningful Endeavor for Researchers and the Public?

Julie Hecht, MSc

If it seems like you’re hearing the term ‘citizen science’ more and more, it’s because you are. Citizen scientists not only help researchers monitor the sky — classifying galaxies and tracking bird migration — and the land — identifying wild animals via camera traps — but citizen science is increasingly making its way into companion animal studies. This talk orients animal behavior professionals to the growing field of citizen science and will help you answer the question, “Should my next project include citizen science?”

This talk provides a general overview of the citizen science field, from its early days to today. I highlight the field’s overarching principles — which traditionally include benefits to both researchers and the public — and discuss notable issues like study design and data quality. Finally, I compare citizen science to more traditional research approaches using a few companion animal projects as a guide. Is citizen science something to recommend to a friend or to consider for your next project? This talk provides the background for an informed position.

Bonney et al. 2014. Next steps for citizen science. Science, 343, 1436–1437.

Hecht, J. & Cooper, C.B. 2014. Tribute to Tinbergen: Public engagement in ethology. Ethology, 120, 207–214.
Hecht, J. & Spicer Rice, E. 2015. Citizen science: A new direction in canine behavior research. Behavioural Processes, 110, 125–132.

Turning Practitioners into Scientists: Research Designs for Applied Animal Behaviorists

Erica Feurbacher, PhD

Typically, group research designs require large sample sizes for adequate statistical control, precluding many applied animal behavior practitioners from not only being able to scientifically assess their own practices but also from contributing to the larger scientific field. Our field could expand greatly in its knowledge base and better identify best practices if practitioners could more easily contribute scientifically to our field. In the field of applied human behavioral science, clinicians working with human populations contribute regularly to the scientific enterprise and assess the experimental control of their own clinical practices. This field has been able to turn practitioners into scientists through employing designs that allow for small n research which maintain, and even increase, the experimental rigor found in group designs. Moreover, such designs allow us to see individual variability and, because our field is based on treating the individual animal rather than the statistical average animal, these designs allow us to parse out critical variables that can influence the effectiveness of our treatment for different individuals. These designs are so useful that the medical field is also making a push for clinicians and clinical trials to use small n designs. In this talk, I will discuss the basic small n designs, including reversal, multiple baseline, and multielement designs, as well as their strengths and limitations, how they can be creatively combined to meet practitioners’ needs, and how practitioners can usefully implement them.

Getting It Right: Canine Research and the Academic Covenant of the Lit Review

Janis Bradley

During the decades I spent teaching undergraduates, one situation I was never able to confront with equanimity was the student paper that filled me with the conviction that the student had spent less time and attention writing it than I was spending responding to it. Since I became a serious student of the dog bite and canine aggression literature, I often experience the same conviction that I am spending more time examining the references in the lit reviews than the author did. This is not simply the schoolmarm’s pet peeve. The lit review is the foundation supporting the entire structure of any research endeavor. It establishes not just the prior attempts to address the question at hand or related ones, but the underlying assumptions on the subject, the premises from which the authors reason to their conclusions which usually include the social or humane benefit of doing the research in the first place. Yet when a careful reader pulls on these threads, she too often finds that the author has used material from an abstract or even just a title which on closer examination doesn’t faithfully represent actual findings in the body of the paper. In other cases, a writer may present an offhand comment from the text as a concrete finding, or present repetition as replication, or even attribute findings to a paper that actually includes no mention of the topic. This presentation will use the dog bite and canine aggression literature, where the consequences of getting it wrong are transparently dire for dogs, as an example to suggest best practices for responsibly performing this crucial part of the research process, and to foster a healthy level of critical reading in the consumers of the dog behavior literature. Participants will be encouraged to share their experiences in both roles.

Judging a Dog by Its Cover: Morphology but Not Training Influences Visitor Behavior towards Kenneled Dogs at Animal Shelters

Sasha Protopopova, PhD, CPDT

Currently, visitor behavior in companion animal shelters is not adequately explored. A sequence of experiments investigated how visitors interacted with kenneled dogs at an animal shelter and whether training dogs to exhibit appropriate behavior in their kennels would evoke more interest from shelter visitors. Two sides of an animal shelter were differentially entered into training phases in a multiple baseline design. During the training phase, dogs were trained to exhibit appropriate in-kennel behavior. Visitors attended to approximately 35% of kenneled dogs and only spent an average of 15 s looking at individual dogs. We found that whereas training was effective in decreasing undesirable behavior in dogs, only morphology influenced visitor behavior. Morphologically preferred dogs (i.e., puppies, long-coated dogs, small dogs, and certain breeds) had a 1.3 times higher frequency of visits to their kennel and had a 9 times higher frequency of being taken out of their kennel for further inspection compared to other dogs. These results suggest that shelter visitors pay much more attention to morphology rather than behavior of kenneled dogs.

The Mistaken Ubiquity of Lab Mixes: How DNA is Changing What We Thought We Knew About Shelter Dogs

Lisa Gunter, MA, CBCC-KA, CPDT

Dog breed identification in shelters is often based upon the relinquishing owner’s claims or determination by staff looking at the animal. Previous research has indicated discrepancies between breed identification assessed by welfare agencies and the results of DNA analysis. In this two-site study, we analyzed the breed heritage of nearly 1000 shelter dogs to better understand who these dogs really are and what effect DNA-derived breed assignment could have on the adoption process. While providing MARS Wisdom Panel information to potential adopters did not have a significant impact on adoption rates, the far more interesting story is that shelter canines have much more varied and complex breed identities than we could have imagined. In this presentation, I’ll discuss what breeds were identified at each shelter, the prevalence of the different breeds identified, the degree to which individual breeds were present – and how these results provide further evidence that breed identification of mixed breed dogs at animal shelters is inherently complex at best, and, at worst, untenable.

Food Aggression Tests in Shelter Dogs: Do We Need Them?

Amy Marder, PhD, CAAB

Two recent studies (Marder A et al, 2014; Mohan-Gibbons et al, 2012) have shown that when a dog demonstrates food aggression on a behavior evaluation in the shelter it often does not display the same behavior in the home after adoption. In addition, food aggression is not a barrier to adoption or the formation of healthy human-canine bonds. Although the studies show that the presence of food aggression is often not considered a problem to adopters, some shelters continue to consider food aggressive dogs unadoptable and euthanize them.

In 2014, the Dumb Friends League in Denver discontinued testing their dogs for food aggression. Before and after data was collected on adoptions, euthanasia, live release rate, return rate, length of stay. Data was also collected on bite reports in the shelter and in dogs after adoption. There were no differences found.

The ASPCA has started a study with a number of shelters who are willing to discontinue the food aggression test. Before and after data is currently being collected.

If little difference is found in the before and after data do you feel comfortable recommending the discontinuation of food aggression tests in shelter dogs? What about the other tests in the behavior evaluation?

Rehabilitating Homeless Undersocialized, Fearful Dogs – A 2-Year Update

Kristen Collins, MS, CPDT, ACAAB; Katherine Miller, PhD, CAAB, CPDT; Pia Silvani, CPDT, CCBC; Pamela Reid, PhD CAAB

Dog victims of cruelty are sometimes so behaviorally traumatized by their experiences that they are not suitable for adoption. Those often find their way to the ASPCA’s Behavior Rehabilitation Center, a facility dedicated to the study and rehabilitation of fearful, undersocialized dogs. The Rehab Center collects a wide variety of behavioral data to ensure that we capture of the effects of treatment and progress over time. These data include a survey completed pre-intake, at graduation, and after adoption; behavior evaluations every 3 weeks; daily treatment data; aggregate treatment progress reports every 3 weeks; total number of treatments; length of stay; and disposition. Research goals are to determine if we can predict future rehab success at intake or after 9 weeks of treatment. We will discuss our progress in this quest and how results to date are being applied to refine procedures at the Rehab Center.

Rethinking the “A” word. Are Pet Owners Ahead of the Curve on Aggression? Is Conflict a Synonym for Aggression? Does or Does Not “Dominance Aggression” Exist in Dogs?

Victoria Voith, DVM, MSc, MA, PhD, DACVB; Amy Marder, PhD, CAAB; Janis Bradley

It’s time to get a conversation started about de-pathologizing aggression, particularly human directed conflict behaviors. The discussion must start by making distinctions according to actual harm, e.g., a growl is not an “attack,” and a nip is not a “mauling.” Incidence of conflict behaviors tells us little about actual injury incidence. Low bite reporting rates often decried in studies may actually reflect appropriately proportional responses on the part of regular people, as may the lack of concern about food guarding among adopters. This panel will provide case examples, encourage contributions, and lead a discussion regarding realistic and appropriate ways to frame and respond to canine conflict behaviors.

A CAAB, DVM, LVT and CPDT Walk Into a Bar …: Building Partnerships in the Animal Behavior Community

Amanda Florsheim, DVM; Jessica Lockhart, MS, PhD; Cathy Painter-Rigdon, LVT, CBCC-KA; Fanna Easter, CPDT, KPA CTP, ACDBC, ABCDT-L2

Most communities are seeing an increase in the number and types of professionals available to work with pets with behavior problems. With this increasing number of professionals in a community, some isolate themselves to protect their client base. Rather than isolate ourselves, we should partner together for the betterment of our patients and clients. We feel that each professional can bring different strengths to a case for the betterment of the patient, client as well as the professionals working with the dog. Through case studies, we will demonstrate how each of us have contributed to a patient’s benefit compared to any of us working with the clients and patients alone. The presentation will include actionable items and suggestions on how to implement these items.

Your Place or Mine: The Effect of Setting on Behavior Consulting Process and Treatment

Suzanne Hetts, PhD, CAAB, CVJ; John Wright, PhD, CAAB; Dan Estep, PhD, CAAB; Mary Lee Nitschke, PhD, CAAB, CPDT

Behaviorists, behavior consultants and trainers have the option of offering their services in a variety of settings. Offering clients in-home, office, telephone, or even email or Skype consulting options has usually been a matter of personal preference, expediency, availability, and what the client is willing to pay. Opinions also vary about the value of having pet owners acquire video of various aspects of their pets’ behavior.

Are there more definitive and objective criteria we can use to suggest to a client which option would be best for an individual situation OR why, as individual consultants, we might choose to forego some settings and not others? Sociology and anthropology define “participant observation” – a technique of field research by which a participant observer studies the life of a group by sharing in its activities. Does that describe our role during in-person consultations? Or are we active or passive observers? And how does that differ from being a participant observer?

Does our presence in the home affect the pet’s “natural environment” and is therefore detrimental to observing and understanding the nature of the behavior problem? Is an office appointment more beneficial because it allows us to gather information about the pet in a “novel” environment?

What about hands-on work with the pet during the appointment? Is demonstrating to pet owners a crucial aspect of what we do or is it just as effective, or more so, to refer to dog trainers for the hands-on component? Is this also personal preference or is there a theoretical model or actual “success rate” numbers we can apply comparing the two approaches?

We’ll discuss these questions and others suggested by the audience during this panel presentation.

PTSD Dogs: Obstacles to Success

Karen London, PhD, CAAB, CPDT

In recent years, veterans with psychological service dogs have become a larger part of my caseload. The veterans typically have PTSD and some also have TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury.) The challenges of these cases are unusual compared with other types of cases for many reasons. There are very high and sometimes unrealistic expectations of the dogs by their owners. The dogs often come to the people with very little training. The people typically lack training skills themselves, and their psychological issues can make it challenging for them to care for their dogs and to train them. Many of the dogs do not have the emotional stability that predicts a high likelihood of success as a service dog. Several of my clients with a Native American heritage struggle with the negative views their culture has of dogs. I will discuss some cases to share the obstacles facing the creation and maintenance of successful service dog/veteran teams. I hope to encourage a discussion about meeting the challenges relating to service dogs for veterans.

Risky Business – Helping Shelters and Rescues Navigate Legal Risks involving Dog Bites and Euthanasia Practices

Heidi Meinzer, JD, CPDT-KSA, CNWI

The practical answer to the question “Can I be sued?” is always yes – but whether a plaintiff will succeed is a different question. Unfortunately, even when a defendant wins, litigation is an expensive and frustrating process. Dog bite claims have become more and more prevalent, constituting over one third of all homeowner insurance liability claims paid out in 2014. In litigation, defendants are often “judgment proof” or have insurance policy limits, which will push parties to be creative in finding another “deep pocket” to reach into. This has led to a number of lawsuits against localities, shelters and rescues, with claims of failing to act against a known aggressive dog or failing to warn about an adopted dog’s behavior issues. At the same time, some jurisdictions and shelters have come under fire by No Kill proponents and animal advocates for euthanizing too much. These competing dilemmas create risk management landmines for rescues, shelters, and training and behavior staff. What are the actual legal risks involved, what is the proper balance, and how can rescues and shelters protect themselves? An animal law attorney will analyze recent cases and applicable laws to help navigate these risks.

Recommending Euthanasia

Melissa Shyan, PhD, CAAB

“You’ve done the best you could, you’ve given your pet the best life you could, and more chances than most people would have, you’ve tried everything, but…” We’ve all had to do it. We all hate to do it. We all know that sometimes owners will listen, and sometimes they won’t accept the suggestion. When and how do you determine when to recommend euthanasia? Do you have a criterion? Is it “gut instinct” based on experience? We all know that it can be terribly hard to make the recommendation. How do you decide? What reasoning do you use? What reasoning do you give?

A brief review of relevant literature will be presented. Then a free flowing discussion will be attempted. IFAAB attendees, who are willing, will be asked to talk about how they determine to make that recommendation; i.e., when is “enough, enough.

A Different Approach to Group Classes for Puppies and Problem Dogs

Nancy Williams, MA, ACAAB, RVT and Mary Huntsberry, MA, ACAAB

While there is consensus in our field regarding importance of early training and socialization for puppies, opinions differ on how to teach the class, and the manner in which the puppies can interact with each other. There is little literature on the efficacy of the varying methods used to train puppies in a group setting.

Based on client’ reports that despite past attendance at puppy classes, we were seeing cases of serious aggression toward people or dogs. Based on this, we designed puppy classes to attempt to thwart future problems! A number of the techniques used to solve behavior problems in these private cases are novel, often using a number of response prevention techniques during training while gradually increasing distractions. Using these techniques in our puppy classes has resulted in increased focus on the owner while “socializing” the puppies with other dogs, people, and even horses! Our classes are small, and limited to five puppies and owners.

Our talk will describe how classes are set up, handling of puppies is demonstrated, and practice maximizes the potential for progress. We hope that other behaviorists will find our methods useful and be able to work with groups that they had not previously considered. We look forward to group discussion of the overall topic.

Toys, Pets & Passion

Mark Hines

It’s no surprise that top animal care professionals around the world are passionate about their careers. They have a keen understanding of the importance of play on an animal’s physical, mental, and emotional development. My talk will explore best practices in using toys as tools for enrichment, rehabilitation, and behavior modification. It is vital when using toys to understand proper toy selection, supervision and safety, as well as the difference between quality and sub-par materials. This talk aims to bridge the gap between animal behavior and toy implementation while answering questions you may have regarding the connection between the two.

A Tale of Two Prison Dog Training Programs: Is Bigger Necessarily Better?

Lynne Gilbert-Norton, PhD, MSc

Canines with a Cause rescues and trains shelter dogs for public adoption and as potential service dogs for veterans with PTSD in the Utah Department of Corrections women’s facility. In our yearlong pilot program, we have faced many challenges including constant changes in handlers, limited training and accommodation space, and demoralization. But we have also had successes; both objective and anecdotal, including the training of 21 dogs, a reduction in infractions and an increase in the sense of purpose and giving back by our 20 inmate handlers. We attribute much of our success with both the dogs and the inmates to the positive training methods we use. In looking to expand and improve our prison program by training more dogs and improving benefits for our inmate handlers, we recently visited an established dog program in Colorado that provides an impressive model for training programs in prison environments. In the span of 20 years, 159 male inmates have successfully trained approximately 10,000 dogs; and private clients send their dogs to board and train at the prison, which provides funding for the rescue work. Colorado relies on punitive methods to meet the time expectations of their training goals; however the sense of purpose and pride in achievement by the inmates is comparable. Could the success of their program be a function of using a training language and method that incarcerated inmates understand? Given state efforts on reform and rehabilitation within the prison system, isn’t it time we encouraged a more positive approach in prison training programs?

Effect of Breed and Prior Odor Exposure on Dogs’ Detection Performance

Nathaniel Hall, PhD

I will present three studies that explore variables related to canine odor detection performance. In the first study, we trained ten dogs each of three breeds (German Shepherds, Pugs, and Greyhounds) on an odor detection task in which we assessed acquisition of an odor discrimination, detectability of varying concentrations of an odorant, and performance on a control visual task. We found that Pugs outperformed the German Shepherds on odor acquisition and the dilution test, but showed similar performances on the control visual task. Greyhounds showed a general failure to participate. I will present on two additional studies that evaluate the effects of varying types of odor pre-exposure on subsequent detection performance. In the first study, we evaluated the effects of odor exposure on the acquisition rate of an odor discrimination. We found exposure alone had little effect, but pre-exposure in the form of Pavlovian conditioning facilitated acquisition compared to no-exposure. In a follow-up study, we demonstrate that odor Pavlovian conditioning, but not odor exposure alone, leads to greater odorant sensitivity, as measured by threshold detection of the odorant in a liquid-dilution olfactometer. To conclude, I will highlight what implications these results have for scent-training and will indicate what areas need further research.

Teaching New Tricks to Old and Young Dogs – Part 1

Rachel Gilchrist

People have been training dogs for centuries, yet very few empirical studies have directly compared different techniques for teaching dogs new behaviors. In this presentation we will report a comparison of three different ways to train young dogs to sit and stay. One group was trained with just a primary reinforcer (preferred food); one group was trained with a verbal marker accompanied by the primary reinforcer; and the final group was trained with a click sound – as promulgated by Pryor (1999) among others – followed by the primary reinforcer. Although previous studies have examined these positive reinforcement training methods, ours is the first to compare the three methods within one research design. The surprising results from this project will be presented and discussed.

Teaching New Tricks to Old and Young Dogs – Part 2

Sophie Raymond

We have developed a radial arm maze with which to test the memory of dogs of different ages. Dogs are the only non-primates to spontaneously develop a form of age-related cognitive decline similar to human Alzheimer’s disease, but research into treatments for this tragic condition is stymied by the lack of sensitive measures of dog memory. We have developed protocols that clearly show age-related decline even in apparently normal healthy dogs. We also see that aging dogs adopt different strategies in the maze. Because the maze is challenging for movement-impaired dogs we have also developed simpler tests of dog memory that are also very sensitive to the dog’s age. Now that we have an excellent test of memory, we can test dogs that have been diagnosed with cognitive decline, and investigate putative mitigating interventions.

2017 Event

Twenty First Annual Meeting – February 23rd-26th, 2017.
Lone Star Court, Austin TX
The Forum is limited to the first 25 people who submit an approved abstract. This meeting is for people who are experienced in the field, not for those wanting assistance, mentoring, or guidance to enter the field. Everyone who attends must present. Space is limited so we regret we cannot accommodate visitors and onlookers.

2017 Schedule

Friday, February 24
8-8:30 Coffee, Networking  
9:00- 9:30 Introductions  
9:30-10:00 Erica N. Feuerbacher & Lisa M. Gunter Assessment of a Sleepover Program on the Cortisol Levels of Shelter Dogs
10:00-10:30 Barbara Pezzanite ARF’s Shy Dog Socialization Program
10:30-10:50 Break  
10:50-11:20 Kristen Collins & Pia Silvani Social Facilitation as a Tool for Treating Extreme Fear in Undersocialized Dogs
11:20-12:00 Janis Bradley & Amy Marder Do the math: behavior evaluations flunk
12:00-12:20 Flex time  
12:20-2:00 Lunch  
2:00-2:30 Lisa M. Gunter It’s a dog’s life: Investigating behavioral, cognitive, and memory differences between owned and shelter dogs
2:30-3:00 Sasha Protopopova & Kelsea Brown The Effects of Temperament on Stress and Upper Respiratory Disease in Dogs in Animal Shelters
3:00-3:20 Break  
3:20-3:50 Kat Miller & Pam Reid Are Underweight Dogs More Likely To Guard Food in an Animal Shelter?
3:50-4:20 Claire F. Cario More than just playing around
4:20-5:00 Discussion Leader:Lisa Gunter Discussion: How to evaluate wellbeing of shelter dogs?
5:00-5:20 Sponsor session- – Melanie McLeroy  
5:30- Wine & Cheese Party  
Saturday, February 25
8:30-9:00 Coffee, Networking  
9:30-10:00 Suzanne La Croix Relational Aggression
10:00-10:50 Frank McMillan The science of animal happiness
10:50-11:10 Break  
11:10-11:40 Anneke Lisberg, Tina Harasha The over-under on urine marking in dogs
11:40-12:20 Melissa Shyan-Norwalt Case(s) Study: Equal Dogs/interdog Aggression (Or, Where I was confused and failed to help)
12:20-12:30 Flex time  
12:30-2:00 Lunch  
2:00-2:30 Jenna Buley Assessing and addressing pet owner obstacles to companion animal care: Parvovirus prevention in Milwaukee
2:30-3:00 Jessica Lockhart & Amanda Florsheim When will I trust my dog again? Re-establishing trust as part of behavior modification
3:00-3:20 Break  
3:20-3:50 Beth L. Strickler, Ellen Mahurin, & Ayelet Berger The Human Component of Behavior Consultations
3:50-4:20 Kelsea Brown, Sasha Protopopova, Janis Bradely Attitudes Toward and Perceptions of Canine Problem Behaviors
4:20-5:00 Flex time  
Sunday, February 26
9:00-9:30 Coffee, Networking
9:30-10:10 Scott Coleman Effects of Therapy Dogs on Mood States of College Students
10:10-11:10 Discussion Leader: Sasha Protopopova Discussion: Evaluations and considerations of wellbeing of working therapy and service animals
11:10-11:30 Break
11:30-12:00 Wrap-up and Check out
12:00-1:30 Working Lunch: Planning for Next Year


2017 Abstracts

Updated – 2 7 17

Do the math: behavior evaluations flunk

Janis Bradley, Amy Marder

Shelters use batteries of provocative stimuli referred to as behavior evaluations for various purposes. One purpose is as screening tools to predict, in dogs deemed possible candidates for adoption (i.e., those not screened out at intake) whether they will later exhibit dangerous behaviors in a home. However, there is wide agreement that such tests have not been validated or uniformly administered and there are ongoing attempts to develop better instruments. This presentation will illustrate how existing data and principles of diagnostic test evaluation demonstrate that reliably predicting problematic behaviors in future adoptive homes is vanishingly unlikely, even in theory, much less under the logistical constraints of real world shelters. In other words, when a shelter dog tests positive for dangerous behavior on one of these formal tests, it is much more likely that the test has failed the dog, rather than the dog having failed the test. Among numerous barriers to validating a behavior evaluation is the relatively low level of incidence of the behaviors of interest in the general population of shelter dogs, making the occurrence of many false positives inevitable. As a result, formal behavior evaluations of dogs in shelters are unlikely to ever be better than or even as good as tossing a coin in predicting whether dogs will express threatening or biting behavior once adopted. This raises the question of whether it is humane or prudent with regard to public safety to use these tests to make adoptability decisions. The predictably unreliable results can create an unjustified sense of security and can have life and death consequences for the dogs. It is time to consider low tech, low cost, readily available alternatives that may be more likely to reveal the true personalities of dogs and make them better candidates for adoption in the process.

Assessing and addressing pet owner obstacles to companion animal care: Parvovirus prevention in Milwaukee 

Jenna Buley

As with many companion animal behavioral problems, changing dog owner behaviors is often the greatest obstacle to addressing dog veterinary issues. In Milwaukee, rates of parvovirus are much higher than other areas of the state and country. This is an easily preventable disease from a medical standpoint and as such, its continued occurrence is likely due to human/owner variables. With data gathered from a Milwaukee, inner-city veterinary clinic and an inner-city charter school with extensive bilingual resources, we will attempt to quantify barriers to obtaining basic preventative care for pet dogs. This will include data related to geography, income, transportation, language & cultural barriers between pet-owners and animal care professionals, and community and cultural knowledge of a specific disease (parvovirus) and its prevention. We then hope to analyze these data to promote the dispersion of knowledge and to improve access to vaccination. This model is important in that it addresses a significant disease and can model how to identify and change human variables to better improve other aspects of the complex relationships that we have with domestic and companion animals.

Assessment of a Sleepover Program on the Cortisol Levels of Shelter Dogs

Erica N. Feuerbacher, Lisa M. Gunter

One of the greatest stressors for dogs living in animal shelters is social isolation. Many studies have demonstrated that human interaction reduces cortisol in shelter dogs and incorporating longer periods of interaction yields even greater effects. These interventions are contingent upon removing the dog from the kennel with cortisol reductions often lost when the dog returns to the kennel. Increasingly, shelters are utilizing short-term fostering to give dogs a break from the shelter. However, such programs have not been assessed to determine whether they have the intended effect on stress. We assessed the Best Friends Animal Society’s sleepover program in which shelter dogs go home with a volunteer for an evening. We measured the creatinine:cortisol levels from three urine collections: 1) the morning prior to the sleepover, 2) the morning after the sleepover and before the dog returned to the shelter and 3) the morning after the dog returned the shelter. We found that the urinary cortisol levels dropped significantly while on the sleepover, but returned to baseline levels within a day of returning to the shelter. Our data suggests that such programs are useful for reducing short-term stress levels and opens many questions for these programs including what the long-term effects of such programs are and how to enhance them.

It’s a dog’s life: Investigating behavioral, cognitive, and memory differences between owned and shelter dogs

Lisa M. Gunter & Clive D. L. Wynne

Previous research has found significantly elevated levels of cortisol in dogs living in shelters compared to dogs living in homes. However few studies have examined possible behavioral and cognitive differences between these two groups of dogs. We compared dogs living in an animal shelter and owned dogs on a series of behavioral persistence, affective bias, memory, and reversal tasks. In Study 1, we trained dogs to touch their nose to an experimenter’s hand for a food reinforcer, and their persistence was measured when food was no longer delivered. We found dogs living in homes persisted longer in this resistance-to-extinction task than shelter dogs. In Study 2, dogs were tested in a spatial location affective bias task to infer differences in their underlying state as measured by latency to approach ambiguous and unbaited probe locations. We found shelter dogs perceived the near negative probe location more pessimistically than owned dogs. In Study 3, we tested dogs’ short-term memory at varying intervals of time on a novel task: a treat was placed behind a box with an identical distractor nearby, and the number of errors was recorded. We found that while owned dogs were more often correct than shelter dogs at all intervals, the difference was not significant. Finally, dogs’ sensitivity to reinforcement contingency was tested in a reversal learning task. Dogs were presented two identical boxes, one baited, and the other not. After a dog reached a criterion level of success in selecting the baited box, the baiting of the boxes was reversed. Reversals continued for 30 trials, and number of correct choices was recorded. Preliminary results from this and the previous studies will be presented and discussed.

Relational Aggression

Suzanne La Croix

Relational aggression is behavior which harms others through purposeful manipulation and damage of their peer relationships (Crick and Grotpeter, 1995). This is currently a hot topic in elementary school circles, especially as applied to aggressive and manipulative behaviors among young girls. It umbrellas social exclusion, friendship withdrawal threats, giving the silent treatment, and spreading malicious secrets, lies or gossip. Relational aggression and its proximate biological bases are of interest to Applied Animal Behaviorists because they provide a new perspective for examining social (mis)behavior in adolescent dogs and offer a construct for describing differential aggressive behavior between male and female adolescent dogs.

The over-under on urine marking in dogs

Anneke Lisberg, Tina Harasha

While many mammals use countermarking (scent marking in response to a conspecific mark) and over-marking (marking over a conspecific mark) as communicative signals, the function of mark placement as a possible signal component is largely untested. In dogs, high-status and high tail-postured male dogs countermark and overmark at higher rates than low-status and low-tailed males, and overmarking appears to follow different sexual and social patterns of use than adjacent-marking (in dogs, urine-marking a few feet away from the original mark.) But does “overmark” placement affect the signal? If so, in what way? Overmarks could a) hide the previous signal, b) blend with the previous signal, c) create a “bulletin board” in which each mark is considered similarly but distinctly, or d) be given preferential or more significant attention than the previous signal. Using a habituation model previously used to test the effects of overmarking in rodents, we tested dogs’ responses to overmarks to differentiate between these four hypotheses. We will share the new results of this ongoing study.

When will I trust my dog again? Re-establishing trust as part of behavior modification

Jessica Lockhart & Amanda Florsheim

Working with clients who are dealing with aggressive dogs can be a delicate balance between treating the behavior issue in the dog and counseling the owner’s lack of confidence. The clients are dedicated to their animals and are committed to making things work; however, they all sing the same refrain, “When will I trust my dog again?” The emotional betrayal that people feel when an otherwise “normal” dog suddenly acts out is on par with being betrayed by a loved one or close personal friend. Owners seem at a loss for how to deal with an emotional slight from a non-human companion. This discussion group will focus on ways to help clients regain lost trust and re-forge a relationship with their companion animal. We will pay particular attention to situations involving new children in the home and circumstances where the owners are almost too stressed/worried to work with their dogs.

The science of animal happiness

Frank McMillan

Happiness (referred to in the scientific literature as subjective well-being) has been an elusive concept to study in humans. However, in the past few decades the research has determined many of the causes and influences of one’s experience of happiness. Short-term, or momentary, happiness refers to the feelings of the moment, and its existence in mammals is not seriously disputed. However, the form of happiness that makes up the primary focus in human psychological research is that which exists as a long-term, life-as-a-whole experience. Happiness has an enduring effect that transcends and outlasts the pleasures and pains of day to day living. It is a pervasive sense over time that all is well, a consideration of life overall. Happiness in humans has been found to consist of an affective and cognitive component – the evidence for an affective component stable over time and comparable to human long-term happiness now exists in non-human primates. The key question is whether animals have the capacity for the cognitive, or evaluative, component. Recent empirical research on inequity aversion as well as anecdotal observations suggest that they do. Moreover, recent research has demonstrated that subjective well-being in animals is, as has been well-established in humans, strongly correlated with personality. This presentation will discuss the scientific evidence for the existence of a long-term happiness state in animals, and why it matters.

ARF’s Shy Dog Socialization Program

Barbara Pezzanite

The Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons rescues dogs from across the United States as well as from Puerto Rico. In some cases, such as dogs rescued from puppy mills and the streets of Puerto Rico, the dogs have been inadequately socialized with people, novel situations, and novel objects, rendering them unadoptable upon arrival at ARF. Typically, however, these dogs are highly social with other dogs. ARF’s Shy Dog Socialization Program was designed to socialize these dogs with unfamiliar people and objects en masse. With the help of a highly social dog, taking advantage of aspects of social learning theory, and the use a small amount of training, more of ARF’s “shy” dogs can be socialized at once, helping them progress faster to suitability for adoption.

The Effects of Temperament on Stress and Upper Respiratory Disease in Dogs in Animal Shelters

Sasha Protopopova & Kelsea Brown

Individual variability is evident in behavior and physiology of human and non-human animals. The influence of temperament on immune function and the endocrine response in dogs has not received much attention. An inquiry into the relationship of these systems is not only interesting from a basic science perspective, but, more crucially, may influence the management of dogs housed at animal shelters. While normally associated with mild disease and low mortality rates, respiratory disease nevertheless poses significant challenges to the management of dogs in the highly stressful environment of animal shelters. Therefore, the aim of the study is to characterize the relationship between temperament, the HPA axis, immune function, and occurrence and progression of upper respiratory disease in dogs at animal shelters. In a correlational study, close to one hundred dogs were assessed throughout their 2-week stay at a city animal shelter. The dogs were subjected to a temperament test, continuous in-kennel behavioral observations, and the collection of physiological stress and immune function markers (urinary and fecal cortisol and salivary IgA). The occurrence and progression of upper respiratory disease was monitored through repeated clinical exams (rectal temperature, body condition score, and occurrence of nasal and ocular discharge). Understanding the role of temperament in immune responses to disease, disease progression, and sickness behavior may improve shelter management practices, and in turn, result in improved live-release outcomes.

Are Underweight Dogs More Likely To Guard Food in an Animal Shelter?

Kat Miller & Pam Reid

Common animal shelter “lore” suggests that dogs who are underweight or were previously starved are more likely than normal weight dogs to display resource guarding behavior, warning or aggressing towards a human that approaches while the dog is eating. As a result of our anti-cruelty work with law enforcement agencies, each year the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) receives hundreds of dogs that are underweight or emaciated, as well as normal and overweight dogs. These dogs come from large scale cases of dog fighting, hoarding, substandard puppy breeders, and defunct animal “sanctuaries”, as well as individual cases of cruelty and neglect. We administer standardized forensic medical and behavioral examinations soon after intake for all animals seized by law enforcement officers. We analyzed this dataset to examine the relationship between body condition score (BCS) and food and chew guarding behavior as expressed in a shelter behavior evaluation. The goals of this study were to:

1) Describe the prevalence and severity of food guarding among canine victims of cruelty or neglect when assessed in a shelter setting,

2) Examine whether prevalence of food guarding varies by dogs’ cruelty case type,

3) Describe the range of body condition scores found in this population,

4) Analyze the relationship between case type, body condition score, and food guarding behavior,

5) Examine the odds that an underweight dog will be a food guarder compared to normal or overweight dogs.

We had previously collected, analyzed and presented data from a sample of 469 dogs, with ambiguous results concerning the effect of cruelty case type. We therefore collected data from an additional 431 dogs and will now present our revised results from a sample of 900 dogs.

Case(s) Study: Equal Dogs/interdog Aggression (Or, Where I was confused and failed to help)

Melissa Shyan-Norwalt

The goal of the present discussion is to share a few cases where I had no idea what to do, and to generate a group discussion about how similar cases were handled by others. There have been a few instances in my behavior consulting where I felt totally confused. These cases involved interdog aggression within a home environment: two dogs fighting in apparent dominance-related activities. (I have been successful with interdog/home aggression under other circumstances: possessive aggression, fear aggression, reactive aggression.) But the few cases I’ve had where the dogs appear to be equal in status, show dominance postures, and fight upon sight just stymie me. (Yes, I know about the operant conditioning elements in these circumstances.) I will present two cases, what I tried and what happened. Then I hope we will generate a discussion of what techniques others have used, what we used to be told to use (deference, selecting the “top dog,” et cet.) and what works. I know that “dominance” terms are not popular now, and I do not have many of these cases. But they completely flabbergast me and I’m not embarrassed to say so.

The Human Component of Behavior Consultations

Beth L. Strickler, Ellen Mahurin, & Ayelet Berger

The essential components of pet behavior consultations include gathering information from the client, engaging the client in the development and implementation of the treatment plan, and ensuring that the client is making progress through the patient’s treatment. Many clients are apprehensive when entering into behavioral treatment for their pet as the unknown can be discomforting. Training of individuals involved in behavioral therapy for pets often concentrates on the interaction with and comfort of the pet while ignoring the human-human interactions. An open discussion of techniques utilized from first contact through resolution of the behavior problem(s) will be discussed by our team. Topics and techniques to be discussed include but are not limited to: Identifying and affirming the client’s emotional state throughout consultation and treatment, reading body language and replying, environmental relaxation tools, and goal setting with reward systems for clients.

Attitudes Toward and Perceptions of Canine Problem Behaviors

Kelsea Brown, Sasha Protopopova, Janis Bradely 

Up to 15% of adopted dogs are subsequently returned. Owner dissatisfaction with their dog’s behavior has been linked to a high risk of both initial surrender and return of adopted dogs. However, only a small proportion of people who subsequently adopted the same dog reported the same behavioral issue, and only half of the problem behaviors indicated by the relinquishing owner were observed by the new adoptive owners, indicating that perception of the behavior as a problem, and not the presence of the behavior per se, may contribute to relinquishment. These effects were particularly evident in Marder, Shabelansky, Patronek, Dowling-Guyer, and D’Arpino (2013), who found that the presence of food-guarding in a new home was not correlated with owner perception of this behavior as problematic. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to identify and compare dog trainers’ and the lay public’s attitudes toward potentially problematic canine behavior in large and small dogs. In a web-based experimental mixed-design, 251 professional dog trainers and 495 non-trainers (N=746) were randomly assigned to view videos of either small or large dogs behaving in various ways. The participants’ perception towards the behavior clips and the attitudes towards the dogs were assessed using quantitative and qualitative measures. Results showed effects of both dog size and profession on perception of behavior as problematic. The findings highlight the importance of perception of behavior when considering education, behavior consulting, and relinquishment interventions.

Social Facilitation as a Tool for Treating Extreme Fear in Undersocialized Dogs

Kristen Collins & Pia Silvani

ABS certified behaviorists on the ASPCA®’s Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team have the unique opportunity to work with animals seized from abusive situations. One of the more common populations we deal with is fearful, undersocialized dogs. The case study we’ll showcase describes the treatment protocols we implemented to address extreme fearfulness in an adult male Australian Shepherd mix. After being trapped as feral, Ozzie was sent to the ASPCA®’s Behavioral Rehabilitation Center. He made little progress over his first weeks in the program. Initially he was terrified of both people and dogs. In an attempt to reduce his incapacitating anxiety, we focused on socializing him with other dogs first. Only after he became comfortable with conspecifics was Ozzie able to progress through our other treatment protocols. Social facilitation proved a useful tool; Ozzie appeared less anxious and more playful interacting with people and engaging in novel experienc es when in the presence of confident dogs. Eventually, Ozzie learned to bond with people, to enjoy being handled and to feel at ease with strangers. Ozzie graduated from the program after 32 weeks in treatment and was successfully adopted into a pet home.

Effects of Therapy Dogs on Mood States of College Students

Scott Coleman

Purpose: Human interaction with dogs and other domesticated animals affords multiple physiological and psychological benefits. Numerous studies show a reduction in anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate among other well-being indices. These effects have been identified in critical human populations with cognitive, development, social, and cardiovascular health disorders. More recently, research has investigated the impact of human/animal interactions in pedagogical domains. The present study investigated the effect of human-animal interactions on the short-term mood states of college students.

Method: Two hundred-forty college students served as participants in this study. Participants were recruited from a large pool of students that attended regularly scheduled therapy dog visitation at the central library on the UTA campus. This study utilized a questionnaire format to assess the mood states of participants immediately before and after interaction with therapy dogs. Mood states were measured using the Profile of Mood States short form (POMS-SF) Shacham (1983). In addition to mood state assessment, participants indicated areas of physical contact (i.e., petted) on the therapy dog using a check list. The duration of the interaction with the therapy dog was also obtained. Thus, the questionnaire provided measurement of length of time and topographical characteristics of the participants’ human-animal interaction.

Results: As expected, total negative mood disturbance decreased from before (M = 47.60, SE = 1.73) to after (M = 21.61, SE = 1.08) engaging in physical contact with a therapy dog, F(1, 224) = 368.16, p < .001, ηp2 = .62. Participants with higher negative mood prior to the session had larger decreases during the session, b = -0.65, SE = 0.03, t(221) = -20.21, p < .001. However, this effect was enhanced by both greater time spent with the therapy dogs, b = -0 006, SE = 0.003, t(217) = -2.28, p = .02, as well as the more total contact areas, b = -0.025, SE = 0.007, t(217) = -3.64, p < .001. However, time spent and areas touched were only marginally associated, r(223) = .13, p = .05.

Conclusions: College students face challenging day-to-day situations that provoke negative mood states, stress, and anxiety. Our study demonstrated the efficacy of instituting an on-campus therapy dog program to ameliorate negative mood in college students. Given the current findings, we anticipate the existence of a wide range of therapeutic effects stemming from human-animal interaction in academic settings. We discuss our finding in relation to the application of therapy of therapy dog in areas of research relevant to health psychology. Future research will investigate the relationships between antecedent factors, such as attitude toward pets, personality, and test anxiety for the potential beneficial role of human-animal interactions.

More than just playing around

Claire F. Cario

By designing a tool that assesses a dog’s intraspecific sociability while measuring changes seen over time, we can provide valuable information to potential adopters, rescues or fosters and evaluate the impact of off leash interaction among conspecifics in a shelter environment. This information may also decrease length of stay as well as returns. Animal Care Centers of NYC is an open admission shelter with an intake of 10,000 plus dogs every year. In Brooklyn alone, we receive an average of 400 dogs every month. The average length of stay is between 10-14 days with a handful of long stays here 3 months or more. The primary form of enrichment that is provided is daily playgroup. Initially the program was introduced to reduce stress and to assist in the daily cleaning of the kennels. However, it now serves both those purposes as well as an opportunity to gather behavioral information on the population and provide socialization sessions for fearful and under-socialized dogs. The development of a scale that assesses a dog’s level of sociability, tolerance and energy level in relation to other dogs may provide a simple, yet informative way to convey behavioral information to adopters, rescues or fosters. This may also may improve the chance that a dog will be rehomed into an environment that would be most compatible with who they are. Additionally, we intend to track changes (eg: Day 1, 4, 7, 14, and 30) throughout the dog’s stay to measure the effect playgroup has on the population.