(One of my co-workers tweeted that I’m blogging from the conference, and the visitor stats for this rather recently launched blog spiked. Good thing that I keep on waking up at 5 am, since I now apparently have a reputation to keep up. Thank you, Nuno!)
The report from the 2nd conference day will be completely lopsided, since I spent the entire morning in the same session, the one on companion animal welfare (and there were no sessions in the afternoon, as the much missed Wednesday afternoon excursions are back in the program this year). I just went through the program for days 3 and 4, and luckily, the coming days I will get to hear talks on farm animals too. The ISAE conference has two parallel sessions, and as far as possible, I try not to move between sessions more than in the breaks. But the consequence of that is the risk of getting a more narrow focus. Well, looking at my own research portfolio, being too narrow or too focused is hardly something I need to worry about… The reality is that ISAE covers a lot of animals and a lot of topics, and it is challenging to keep up with it all!
The companion animal session took up all morning, and it was very well chaired by Lee Neil and with a coherent program, often with several talks from the same study., and in the following I will respect that rather than the precise order in which they were given. The session opened with a longer talk by Karen Overall on Turning off dogs’ brains. Behind that title is the finding that in standard behaviour tests (done to select dogs for further professional training), how reactive a dog is to sounds will fundamentally affect how s/he performs in the test.
Judith Stella and Lynda Mugenda presented two papers from the same study working with dogs at commercial breeders (“puppy mills”) in the US. Lynda’s paper addressed how to refine on-site welfare assessment using the Field Instantaneous Dog Observation (FIDO) scoring, and Judith reported the use of welfare scoring to identify good candidates for reforming of retired breeder dogs.
Conor Goold addressed the predictive validity of the dog behaviour assessment used in the Battersea shelters in the UK, looking at how in-shelter assessment related to post-reforming owner reports of dog behaviour. Nicolas Dollion talked about the dimensions of personality in working dogs, based on 37 years worth of data from the Mira foundation in Quebec.
After Conor’s and Nicolas’ talks on studies involving thousands of dogs, our ambition to get a total of 98 dogs from 7 training schools into a study seemed rather meager, but working with companion dogs and volunteer owners is really a different challenge than that of working with single institutions with thousands of dogs. I was both pleased and a little nervous to be presenting dog behaviour work for the first time in my career, and glad that our study of the effects of aversive- and reward-based training methods on companion dog welfare was received with great interest. The last all of the first part of the session, a systematic literature review on service dogs for epileptic people by Amélie Catala, was also a talk I could relate to with our experience of aiming to do a systematic literature review and finding only a handful of papers. This also seems an appropriate way to end the first half of the morning session, by demonstrating that we really need much more of the kind of well designed observational studies that had just been reported!
Of course, it’s also important that these good studies are put to good use. The graph above illustrates the effect of the Danish dangerous dog act, as reported by Björn Forkman. A sad example of how political decisions are not necessarily aligned with scientific data, a great example of ISAE humor. Hannah Flint also talked about dog aggression, in this case stranger-directed aggression in companion dogs, and discussed the challenges of drawing conclusions from relations between factors such as training and aggression in a cross-sectional study where cause and effect are not clearly separable.
The three last talks were on cats. From Australia, Grahame Coleman reported on how owners’ attitudes affect how they manage outdoor access for their cats and discussed this in terms of Theory of Planned Behaviour.
From old-town Onomichi in Japan, where there is a large population of unowned cats which are fed by local residents and visiting tourists, Hajime Tanida talked about water provision and Aira Sea about providing toilets to reduce the general soiling of the area where the cats dwell.