Newsletter – March 2016

Learning About Animals was set up to provide information and promote interest in the welfare and behaviour of animals. The aim is to bridge the gap between professionals  & scientists working with animals and the public.

If you have any suggestions for future events, if you would like to be considered to be a speaker, or if you would like to get involved in helping at the events, or projects please get in touch.


Research Round-up

1. Computerised behavioural studies to determine the body language of mice LINK

2. Dogs give friends food LINK

3. New insights into the origin of dogs LINK

4. New evidence that a species of parrot shares tools with conspecifics LINK

5. Can your pet boost your sex appeal? LINK

6. Another study into dog slurping LINK

7. Elephants use their trunks like leaf blowers LINK

8. New research into canine OCD LINK

9. Beak evolved with tool use LINK

10. New ways of surveying fish LINK













More 2016 events on the website at www.learningaboutanimals.co.uk

Including first aid for dog professionals, day with Helen Zulch and more.

Just in case you missed it - a selection of some of the LAA Facebook posts since the November Newsletter

1. "....behavior modification recommendations should emphasize long exposures to weak triggers". In my experience, this is one of the most important things I regularly explain to clients - this article explains why.

3. Word of the day: I like the word "pinnae" - the plural of pinna, which is the outer ear, the bit of the ear you can see (because it isn't inside the head). Was just using it in a presentation I'm writing when I figured I should probably just say 'ears' but it is a word that isn't used often enough...

4. Five photo tricks that help dogs get adopted. This article summarises a study published in Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science about the types of photos that help rescue dogs to get adopted, also relevant if you want to get great photos of your pets. LINK

5. Lovely 5 minute film about wild burros - includes interesting footage of a burro digging for water LINK

6. Is the sense of spirituality the next trait commonly considered to be unique to humans to be shown to exist in animals? "Goodall witnessed chimps performing a specific kind of swaying dance around large waterfalls, in thunderstorms, and during heavy rains. This dance suggests a sense of ceremony and appreciation of the natural world" LINK

7. When people lie rabbits on their backs and think they are hypnotized they are so so mistaken. The rabbit is most likely in state called Tonic Immobility - playing dead and a last ditch attempt for survival. The more frequently you put the rabbit into this state the quicker they go into it. Horrible, stressful and totally unethical, it is great to see this message on a mainstream site such as The Dodo. LINK

Welfare in dog training

You  might have seen the recent media storm regarding an episode of Cesar Milan's TV show.  Appropriately qualified behaviourists have welfare concerns about every episode but the one that has received a lot of attention recently involved a dog known for being aggressive towards pigs was set free in an area with a tethered pig and the pig was badly bitten. The methods of behaviour modification used do not remotely resemble the way qualified behaviourists woud work on such an issue.

To learn more about why Cesar Milan’s methods are not appropriate please see the Welfare in Dog Training website. It is sometimes not only the welfare of the dog that needs to be taken into consideration during dog training. We hope that this case will bring more attention to just how wrong the methods promoted in this show are.

The applicance of (equine) science

Early in 2015, the media delighted in saying our chances of suffering from cancer was genetic pot-luck. By the end of the year, with the excesses of Christmas looming and obesity in the political cross-hairs of the new Chief Medical Officer, the press jumped on the chance to report the likelihood of getting cancer is 80% lifestyle-related and only 20% genetic. What are we supposed to believe?...

In the horse-world, where it seems there are very few certainties, having some claim to ‘science’ can lend an air of authority, and give you the edge over your competitors. Also, with the rise of geek-chic and the internet, science is suddenly cool. No wonder there has been a clamor for equine businesses to use it in their marketing! It doesn’t matter that when the average horse owner sees ‘science’ attached to a service or product, it can be met with anything from suspicion and rejection, to unquestioning compliance and a feeling of self-justification.


So, let’s get under the skin of science. How valid are customer testimonies (beyond the ‘placebo-effect’), where is science done, who funds it, where are the papers, how do you interpret them, how can you spot the limitations? ….and maybe we’ll take a closer look at those cancer headlines, while we’re at it!

7th May, Surrey, morning event, only £25.

THURSDAY 7th APRIL (evening)
Understanding dogs and cats DETAILS

TUESDAY 26th APRIL (evening)
External event - how to make a difference DETAILS

The appliance of (equine) science DETAILS

How to have happy chickens DETAILS

Equine emotions with Jo Hughes DETAILS

How horses want to be trained and managed DETAILS

Events organised by friends of Learning About Animals  

1. RWAF Owners conference, 4th June LINK

2.  RWAF Veterinary conference, 4th June LINK

3. Horse behaviour workshop with Ben Hart, Oban (Scotland) 19th and 20th March LINK

4. Two-day behaviour seminar with Dr Helen Spence, (Oxfordshire), 16&17 April, LINK

The Good News Box

Krill are tiny shrimp-like creatures and a cornerstone of the Antarctic food chain. Hundreds of marine creatures like whales, penguins, and seals rely on them krill for survival. Recently, a petition was successful in causing Sainsburys to stop selling a product made from krill oil. A huge step towards protecting the pristine Antarctic from companies that are greedily looking to profit off crucial natural resources. Petitions can work if they are targeted, realistic and communicated well. Brilliant news for krill.

Interesting links

1. Clip on cat behaviour  LINK

2. Exploration of procrastination (TED talk) LINK

3. Are dogs attacking guide dogs more than non-Guide dogs? Would this be because dogs can tell they are ‘under-control’ so can’t fight back? Lots of questions come from this research LINK

4. Just because we can.... A blog from Ben Hart LINK

5. A human person or a dog person? LINK

Thoughts on the tethering horses in the UK

Should we ban the tethering of ponies in the UK? I strongly believe that a ban on tethering would cause more equines to suffer. This answer sometimes surprises people but let's consider the welfare issues.... Many of us regularly encounter ponies that are tethered without access to shelter, water or other horses. This is an obvious welfare issue but what are the alternatives? If tethering was banned what would happen?

Evidence strongly shows that when tethering is prevented the horses are moved out of sight but usually to even less suitable environments. When kept in ramshackle stables that are rarely cleaned, and where food and water provision is often woefully inadequate, animals suffer more than they would if they were tethered. And even more worryingly it is then more difficult for welfare organisations and concerned members of the public to monitor the animals.

The answer lies not in campaigning for banning practices that we don't like to see, but in working to address the cause of the problem, through education and appropriate community engagement. It won't change things over night but is better than driving problems behind closed doors.


I am now IAABC certified, so officially a ‘Certified Horse Behaviour Consultant’ or CHBC.

I run behaviour consultations to help people with concerns about their horse’s behaviour. I also run ‘behaviour lessons’ for people who are just interested in learning more in a practical way - like a riding instructor but learning about the practical application of behaviour knowledge, tailored to you and your horse.

Please get in touch to find out more.  

Human behaviour change for animal welfare

The First International Conference on Human Behaviour Change for Animal Welfare will take place in September 2016. A common response from people upon learning I am organising a conference on human behaviour change for animal welfare is “Great, sounds interesting. What does that mean?” This blog explores the different elements of human behaviour change and why many of us working in animal welfare believe that we can benefit from learning about human, as well as animal, behaviour.  LINK


Consider submitting an abstract to present a talk or poster at the conference, we welcome abstracts from individuals as well as organisations and charities.


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