Despite it being one of my primary occupations, and therefore something you’d expect me to have answered by know, I have realised this blog hasn’t yet provided a satisfactory reason for the existence of a large proportion of its content. To some, welfare charities and the like exist for lonely people to include in their will, or as a distraction from more pressing international problems. After all, they’re only animals, right?

But this question’s most critical answer lies not in the muddy waters of animal rights, but on the dry and familiar land of basic human interest. Animal Welfare is important,  not only because we owe the beings that we depend upon respect and protection, but because caring for animals is good for human nature. Fostering concern for the welfare of another being, be it animal or human, is crucially important for the development of individual humans and the human race as a whole. 

Author Update

15/12/11

Firstly, I’d like to apologise for the lack of recent activity, and thank those who contributed to the AT’s Assistance Dog Week at the start of the year. There were some really engaging guest posts to read and due to it’s success, AT plans to host more themed weeks in the future.

Soon I will be graduating from the Animal Behaviour and Welfare degree at the University of Bristol, which has occupied much of my time in the past couple of months!

At the moment I am working on a Poultry Welfare project in Oslo, funded by the UFAW Vacation Studentship grant. The project aims to investigate the welfare of hens reared in aviaries that then go on to produce in the more restrictive ‘furnished cages’.

Watch this space for a resurgence of AT posts (some of which will feature more feathers than fur) in the coming weeks!

Picture by Martin de Witte

Between 3 weeks and 14 weeks, your puppy is learning all about the world, and the experiences it has at this time will shape what it considers to be normal. For example, a puppy born into an apartment in New York will become quickly habituated to traffic noise, but will probably be terrified if it ever meets a sheep.

Using this knowledge, puppy owners and breeders can minimise the risk of phobias in their dog in later life. A good technique is to write a list of things you will expect the puppy to live with when it matures. Examples are vacuum cleaners, prams, loud bangs, trains, other puppies/dogs/animals, wearing a collar, people- and the list goes on! Remember to introduce these things in a gradual and positive manner, so that the puppy doesn’t learn to become frightened of them.

Rescue/older dog? Don’t worry, you can still habituate the dog to things, but it will be a longer process, especially if your dog has learned a fear response!

Image

Looking for something a bit different to do with your dog this year? Dogs for the Disabled are offering insiders tips on trick training this christmas. Check it out at www.wagntrain.com

Picture from dogsforthediabled.org

Horse Vices?

15/12/11

The ‘vices’ I’ll be discussing today are of the equine kind. Specifically, wood chewing, wind sucking, wood licking etc. These are sometimes known as ‘equine oral sterrotypies’. They develop as a means to an end. And here’s news, that end isn’t to reduce boredom.

Those of you that read ‘Something to Digest‘ will know that horses naturally graze most of the day. Their stomachs secrete acid in a continuous fashion, but saliva is only secreted in response to chewing. In this way, the pH in the stomach of a horse at grass is kept under control by the buffering and flushing action of the saliva.

The problem comes when we cut down on the forage portion of the horses diet in favour of concentrates. The acidity in the stomach rises as it is not being capped by saliva production, which is presumably quite uncomfortable and can eventually lead to stomach ulcers.

And so the horse learns these ‘vices’ to reduce its discomfort, as it can mimic the effect of chewing grass on non edible substrates. Over time they become habit, and can be seen in a horse that has been out at grass for some time, but has been fed a high concentrate diet in the past.

So why don’t synthetic pheromones work all the time? We can only speculate, little independent research has been conducted on their efficacy.

Problem 1 : the synthetic products do not mimic the animal’s individual scent that is deposited in conjunction with the pheromone mark. A little like if I was to write in your diary- the handwriting would be different and you would be confused as to why the entries were there.

Problem 2 : the animal may become more fearful as you disrupt its emotional navigation system.

Unfortunately synthetic pheromones are marketed as a ‘fix all’ for behavioural problems. They are used by well meaning owners indiscriminately.

Extra note: The picture demonstrates the flehmen response, performed by all animals that are capable of actively processing pheromonal information. It functions to draw air over the vomeronasal or ‘jacobson’s’ organ, located between the oral and nasal cavities.

Coco and Friends

15/12/11

Coco is a friend’s horse- she is very inquisitive and playful, a great animal to film!

Wander over to youtube using this link: http://youtu.be/St44sLzbwE4 and let me know what you think!

Too fantastic not to share! I have wracked my brain but can find no functional purpose for this behaviour, except of course ‘because it’s fun!’. Brilliant.

AnimalWise

I’ve always found friendly interactions between animals of different species to be oddly reassuring. After all, the world can’t be all that bad a place if two animals, separated by differing genetic backgrounds and behavioral imperatives, can find a way to reach across the biological divide and share something, something joyful and positive.

Because of this, I’m an absolute sucker for all of those YouTube videos of cats curling up with mice, horses who befriend sheep, elephants and dogs who are inseparable, and the like. You know the ones I mean.

Many times, though, these are artificial pairings that spring up after we humans have altered the environment, habituating or even confining the animals with one another. While these human-influenced relationships can be incredibly heartwarming, it somehow seems even more magical when animals forge connections across species boundaries in the wild, in their native habitats and without any human intervention.

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