Sorting out relationships and attitudes to pets - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Sorting out relationships and attitudes to pets

FRANCESCA RICCOMINI presents the first of three reports from the recent International Veterinary Behaviour Meeting

THE weather could not have been
kinder or the venue more
successfully chosen when the 200-
odd delegates gathered in Edinburgh
for the 7th International Veterinary
Behaviour Meeting at the end of October.

The international
flavour was enhanced
by the incorporation of
the annual congresses
of the European
Society of Veterinary
Clinical Ethology
(ESVCE), European
College of Veterinary
Behavioural Medicine –
Companion Animals
(ECVBM-CA) and
Companion Animal
Behaviour Therapy
Study Group CABTSG.

And this certainly
was a vivid demonstration of the fact
that where there is a common cause and
passion, no matter what the nationality,
colleagues can work together to organise
an excellent meeting, share their
knowledge and current findings and
learn from each other.

A themed approach

The three-day programme was
structured around various themes with
each half day session featuring a
separate “umbrella” topic. Additionally, a
particularly valuable opportunity was
created on the preceding evening to
register; mingle among the posters,
catching up with friends and meeting
some of the contributors; and for those
so motivated tasting the Scottish
national tipple.

On the sunny Thursday morning,
the first session with its underlying
theme of “Relationships with dogs” was
launched by Nelly Lakestani, now at
Edinburgh University. She presented the
results of a collaborative study, “Pre-
school children’s attitudes to dogs in
Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom”.

As young children figure so highly in
the dog bite statistics, this is an area that
is currently deservedly receiving significant attention. Nelly explained that
although attitudes to animals, including
dogs, vary between cultures and parents
influence their offspring in this regard,
the difference in attitude between

European countries
had not yet been
studied.

This obviously has
implications for the
value of joint bite
prevention
programmes. It was
pleasing, therefore, to
hear that not only do
the results of this
collaborative study
suggest that very
young children’s
attitudes to dogs are
positive in all three of
the recruited cities,
which included our
host town, but that single programme
aimed at preventing dog bites in this vulnerable group should be useful
without modification in the three
countries examined.

A particularly interesting finding was
that bite victims had more positive
attitudes to dogs, even after their
experiences, than others. Cautioning that
no one who was included had been
really badly bitten, Nelly suggested that
these individuals probably had more
positive attitudes beforehand and this
perhaps provides more evidence for the
fact that those strongly attracted to
interact with dogs often lack the
understanding to safely do so.

This is something that the Blue Dog
Project, aimed at this young “at risk” age
group is dedicated to addressing. Many
in the audience are now familiar with
this excellent initiative and were thus
pleased when at the end of the morning
session Tiny de Keuster up-dated us on
its progress.

The second contributor was
Christine Arhant (Austria) with “Owner
behaviour and its relationships with
characteristics of the owner and the
dog”. This was particularly pertinent in
view of the plethora in recent years of entertainment
programmes based
around dog training
and its associated
problems, a cause of
much concern to
many working in the
field of behavioural
medicine.

Claire Corridan, whose sterling
efforts had made such a tremendous
contribution to the success and smooth
running of the whole congress,
concluded the early session with
“Correlates of a successful human: dog
bond”. Drawing on work from her PhD
thesis, Claire began by making the very
pertinent point that no doubt chimed
with many of us that when entering
general practice she soon realised that
her training could have included better
preparation for dealing with owners.

That they come into our clinics with
a range of different attitudes towards
their pets, varying from, she suggested,
“anything for the animal is too much” to
those who try extremely hard to do their
best for a much-loved pet, takes some
getting used to. But when dealing with
problem behaviour, Claire pointed out
these differences in commitment have
an even more significant
effect on outcomes.

Our attention then
switched to “Individual
differences” with a two
hander from Victoria
Voith and Amy Marder
on “The American
shelter dog: identification
of dogs by personality”.

Putting faces to two
such distinguished
names from the field of
behavioural medicine the other side of
The Pond was a real pleasure, while their
presentation had even more relevance
after recent tragic events where, despite
current legislation, yet another child has
died horribly, apparently as a result of
attack by a specific “type” of dog.

Sayaka Arata from the University of
Tokyo then reported on a Japanese
project, “Temperament assessment on
guide dogs using questionnaire survey
and behaviour tests”. She was followed
by Marta Amat discussing a study
carried out at the University of
Barcelona: “Differences in serotonin
levels between aggressive English
Cocker Spaniels and aggressive dogs of
other breeds”.

Short papers

An afternoon of short papers began
with those relating to “Interventions on behaviour”. Paola Marchei
delivered the results of a study
conducted by colleagues in Italy and
Spain to evaluate “The effect of
Nepeta Cataria on kitten behaviour”;
“The effects of exogenous
corticosteroids on dog behaviour: a
preliminary study” was Lorella Notari’s
contribution, an Italian veterinarian
now enrolled for a PhD at the
University of Lincoln.

She was followed by Jacqui Neilson
(USA) whose presentation
“Comparative efficacy of litter odour
control additives” was of particular
interest to those of us in the field who
are increasingly asked to intervene in
house soiling problems with pet cats.

Another topical issue in view of
the proximity to the firework season
was highlighted by Nina Cracknell with
“Comparison of two homoeopathic treatments for fear of
firework noises in dogs:
consistency of effect”
before Machteld Van
Dierendonck from the
Netherlands discussed
“The use of Equine
Appeasing Pheromone
to reduce ethological
and physiological stress
symptoms on horses”.

The USA’s Barbara
Sherman concluded an
interesting session with “Trazodone as an adjunctive agent for treatment of
canine anxiety disorders”.

“Training and communication” was
the next main topic, which began with
“Pairing of vocal and visual commands
during training: does one overshadow
the other?” from Rebecca Skyrme of
the University of Lincoln, and
continued with another Italian
collaboration discussed by Emanuela
Dalla Costa, “Influence of age in
understanding human gestures in pet
dogs”.

Lynda Birke, University of Chester,
followed with “Effects of human body
posture and approach on the flight
behaviour of naïve ponies” and
Jennifer Tomkinson concluded the day
with “Observational leaning of
secondary reinforcement in the
domestic dog”.

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