Past Publications

The effect of owner presence and scent on stress resilience in cats.

Behnke, A. C., Vitale, K. R., & Udell, M. A. R. (2021). The effect of owner presence and scent on stress resilience in cats. Applied Animal Behaviour Science243, 105444. 

Abstract: The Secure Base Effect (SBE) refers to a human or non-human animal’s ability to use the presence of a bonded caretaker, or other familiar stimulus, as a source of comfort that facilitates stress reduction and exploration in novel or stressful contexts. Recent research has shown that some pet domestic cats (Felis catus) display SBE in the presence of their human owner, a finding that could be utilized to improve cat welfare. In applied settings, cat owners are often encouraged to leave behind items holding their scent when leaving their cat in a novel location (e.g. boarding facility), so that these items can be provided to the cat if they show signs of separation distress. Although this practice has not be studied scientifically in cats, scent objects have been found to produce SBE in human research under similar conditions. Olfaction is thought to play an important role in the social behavior of domesticated cats, even in early life, as exposure to nest scent has been found to reduce stress in kittens. Thus, the possibility that owner scent might be sufficient to elicit SBE in cats is an important empirical question with applied implications. In the current study we asked whether owner scent would reduce cat anxiety when in an unfamiliar environment, and to what extent this might be related to whether the cat showed evidence of using their owner as a Secure Base. Forty-two adult cats underwent a counterbalanced Secure Base Test that examined the cat’s behavior with the owner present, without the owner present, and with a scent object present. On average, cats displayed a lower frequency of stress-related behaviors when the owner was present, providing support for the presence of SBE. However, this effect was not seen when the cat was alone with the scent object. The results of this research can be used to deepen our understanding of feline social behavior and welfare. These findings also highlight the importance of using evidence based practices to address cat anxiety in applied settings.

Horse Behavior towards Familiar and Unfamiliar Humans: Implications for Equine-Assisted Services.

Brubaker, L., Schroeder, K., Sherwood, D., Stroud, D., & Udell, M. A. R. (2021). Horse Behavior towards Familiar and Unfamiliar Humans: Implications for Equine-Assisted Services. Animals11(8), 2369. 

Abstract: While human benefits of animal-assisted therapy programs have been documented, relatively little research has been conducted on behavioral factors that predict a successful equine-assisted services (EAS) horse. This study compares the behavior of experienced and non-experienced EAS horses as well as horses selected for future EAS work in a series of sociability and temperament tests. No significant differences were found between experienced and non-experienced horses in the sociability measures or for most of the temperament tests; however, significant differences were found between groups in the brushing test, with non-experienced horses showing more affiliative behaviors towards the familiar handler and unfamiliar persons. No significant differences were found between selected and non-selected horses in the temperament tests. However, non-selected horses were found to show significantly more affiliative behaviors towards a familiar person during a sociability test compared with selected horses. These findings suggest that the social behavior and temperament of EAS horses may not be significantly different from other available horses not selected for EAS work. Instead, these decisions may primarily reflect subjective impressions of fit. Interestingly, on measures where significant differences were identified, the horses not actively engaged in or selected for therapy were the ones that showed greater affiliative responses to familiar and unfamiliar humans. Reasons for why this may be, as well as future directions in EAS selection, are discussed.

Working Dog Training for the Twenty-First Century

Hall, N. J., Johnston, A. M., Bray, E. E., Otto, C. M., MacLean, E. L., & Udell, M. A. R. (2021). Working Dog Training for the Twenty-First Century. Frontiers in Veterinary Science8, 646022.

Abstract: Dogs are trained for a variety of working roles including assistance, protection, and detection work. Many canine working roles, in their modern iterations, were developed at the turn of the 20th century and training practices have since largely been passed down from trainer to trainer. In parallel, research in psychology has advanced our understanding of animal behavior, and specifically canine learning and cognition, over the last 20 years; however, this field has had little focus or practical impact on working dog training. The aims of this narrative review are to (1) orient the reader to key advances in animal behavior that we view as having important implications for working dog training, (2) highlight where such information is already implemented, and (3) indicate areas for future collaborative research bridging the gap between research and practice. Through a selective review of research on canine learning and behavior and training of working dogs, we hope to combine advances from scientists and practitioners to lead to better, more targeted, and functional research for working dogs.

Intraspecific and Interspecific Attachment between Cohabitant Dogs and Human Caregivers.

Sipple, N., Thielke, L., Smith, A., Vitale, K. R., & Udell, M. A. R. (2021). Intraspecific and Interspecific Attachment between Cohabitant Dogs and Human Caregivers. Integrative and Comparative Biology.

Abstract: In recent years there has been growing interest in uncovering evolutionary and lifetime factors that may contribute to the domestic dog’s (Canis lupus familiaris) success in anthropogenic environments. The readiness with which dogs form social attachments, their hyper-social focus, and social flexibility have all been areas of investigation. Prior research has demonstrated that many pet dogs form infant-caregiver type attachments toward human caretakers, even into adulthood. However, it is unknown if adult dogs form similar attachment bonds to other species, including cohabitant dogs, or if the dog–human relationship is unique in this respect. In the current study we used the Secure Base Test to evaluate behavioral indicators of stress reduction, proximity seeking and exploration, classifying dog–human and dog–dog dyads into attachment style categories. As in prior studies, we found that the majority of our dog–human dyads met the traditional criteria for infant–caregiver type attachment. However, the majority of dogs did not display this form of attachment toward cohabitant dog partners. Instead, behaviors observed in dog–dog relationships better matched attachment classifications described in human sibling attachment research. Overall, companion dogs were significantly less likely than human caretakers to elicit behaviors associated with attachment security in a focal dog. Dog–human attachment may play a distinct and important role in the success and resilience of adult dogs living in at least some anthropogenic environments. Bonds formed with other adult dogs, while important, likely serve a different function.

Enhancing the Selection and Performance of Working Dogs.

Bray, E. E., Otto, C. M., Udell, M. A. R., Hall, N. J., Johnston, A. M., & MacLean, E. L. (2021). Enhancing the Selection and Performance of Working Dogs. Frontiers in Veterinary Science

Abstract: Dogs perform a variety of integral roles in our society, engaging in work ranging from assistance (e.g., service dogs, guide dogs) and therapy to detection (e.g., search-and-rescue dogs, explosive detection dogs) and protection (e.g., military and law enforcement dogs). However, success in these roles, which requires dogs to meet challenging behavioral criteria and to undergo extensive training, is far from guaranteed. Therefore, enhancing the selection process is critical for the effectiveness and efficiency of working dog programs and has the potential to optimize how resources are invested in these programs, increase the number of available working dogs, and improve working dog welfare. In this paper, we review two main approaches for achieving this goal: (1) developing selection tests and criteria that can efficiently and effectively identify ideal candidates from the overall pool of candidate dogs, and (2) developing approaches to enhance performance, both at the individual and population level, via improvements in rearing, training, and breeding. We summarize key findings from the empirical literature regarding best practices for assessing, selecting, and improving working dogs, and conclude with future steps and recommendations for working dog organizations, breeders, trainers, and researchers.

Dog-human behavioral synchronization: Family dogs synchronize their behavior with child family members.

Wanser, S. H., MacDonald, M., & Udell, M. A. R. (2021). Dog-human behavioral synchronization: Family dogs synchronize their behavior with child family members. Animal Cognition24: 747–752.

Abstract: Research on dog social cognition has received widespread attention. However, the vast majority of this research has focused on dogs’ relationships and responsiveness towards adult humans. While little research has considered dog–child interactions from a cognitive perspective, how dogs perceive and socially engage with children is critical to fully understand their interspecific social cognition. In several recent studies, dogs have been shown to exhibit behavioral synchrony, often associated with increased affiliation and social responsiveness, with their adult owners. In the current study, we asked if family dogs would also exhibit behavioral synchrony with child family members. Our findings demonstrated that dogs engaged in all three measured components of behavioral synchrony with their child partner—activity synchrony (p < 0.0001), proximity (p < 0.0001), and orientation (p = 0.0026)—at levels greater than would be expected by chance. The finding that family dogs synchronize their behavior with that of child family members may shed light on how dogs perceive familiar children. Aspects of pet dog responsiveness to human actions previously reported in studies with adult humans appear to generalize to cohabitant children in at least some cases. However, some differences between our study outcomes and those reported in the dog–adult human literature were also observed. Given the prevalence of families with both children and dogs, and the growing popularity of child-focused animal-assisted interventions, knowledge about how dogs respond to the behavior of human children may also help inform and improve safe and successful dog–child interactions.

Biology’s best friend: Bridging disciplinary gaps to advance canine science

Bryce, C. M., Davis, M. S., Gompper, M. E., Hurt, A., Koster, J. M., Larson, G., Ostrander, E. A.,  Udell, M. A. R., Urfer, S., Wirsing, A. J., Jimenez, A. G. (2021). Biology’s best friend: Bridging disciplinary gaps to advance canine science. Integrative and Comparative Biology.

Abstract: The rich history and global abundance of domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) present a unique opportunity and an ideal model for interdisciplinary research. Canine evolutionary history demonstrates unprecedented changes across all levels of biological organization. These include diversification from highly social, pack-dwelling wild carnivores (extant gray wolves, C. lupus), to increased dependence on humans (domestication), to modern in-home colonization featuring close physical proximity to humans (interspecies bonding). The young, emerging field of “canine science” comprises numerous biological disciplines including evolution, genetics, cognition, behavior, physiology, comparative medicine, and ecology, drawing on studies of both natural and experimental systems and scaling across all levels of biological organization, from genomes to ecosystems. However, limited connections bridge the diverse fields associated with canine science, although in every branch it is recognized that this species is one of the most phenotypically variable mammals. However, there has been growing interest in integrating the insights from genomic evolution with those from ecophysiology and ecology, thus facilitating a more biologically comprehensive perspective of dogs. In particular, integrative, mechanistic, and/or ecological studies have been generally underrepresented. To address these emerging interests, we have collected the most compelling questions in the field of canine biology and present avenues of current and future research. This article serves to both orient the reader to this special issue, as well as offer a forward-looking perspective from diverse biological sub-disciplines to highlight current and future goals in canine research.

Clicker training does not enhance learning in mixed-breed shelter puppies (Canis familiaris).

Characterizing Human–Dog Attachment Relationships in Foster and Shelter Environments as a Potential Mechanism for Achieving Mutual Wellbeing and Success.

The effects of human attentional state on canine gazing behaviour: A comparison of free-ranging, shelter, and pet dogs.