Meeting Minutes - Janet Cutler: Benefits of Pet Ownership - July 6th, 2017
Dr. Cutler10:57 am with 33 members in attendance. President Ed Herold chaired the meeting and he welcomed today’s guest presenter Janet Cutler.
After some brief announcements David Moller introduced today's speaker, Janet Cutler.
Janet Cutler, MSc., PhD., CPDT. –KA, has learned all about animal behaviour and welfare. She learned what motivates animals, how they learn, how emotions drive behaviour, and how to assess their behaviour and welfare. She received a Certified Professional Dog Training certification (CPDT-KA) and is working towards receiving a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist designation. She’s also doing research on puppy socialization and how that affects behaviour later in life while consulting with pet owners to help them improve their relationship with their pets."
Janet studied at the University of Guelph, and received a Doctorate in animal behaviour and welfare. She is still an "adjunct" at the University of Guelph, but also has her own business in which she visits pet owners in their homes to provide advice on pet behaviour.
Dr. Janet Cutler
Today she talked to us about the benefits of owning a pet and how to prevent dog aggression. Many studies show that owning a pet is beneficial to one’s health and having a dog is beneficial because it promotes exercise. There is also a social component to owning a dog because people who are out walking their dog meet other dog owners and people on the street. This is usually a good experience.
Some studies have shown that owning a pet helps to decrease blood pressure. For instance, in nursing homes studies have shown that people who have been petting cats have lowered their blood pressure. The same approach has also shown similar results for high-level executives who have gone out and got a cat and then been measured six months later and found that their blood pressure had decreased compared to a control group who didn’t have a pet.
A similar study followed people for a year after they had been hospitalized, primarily for a heart attack, who had gone out and got a pet and the study found an increased survival rate if they had a pet in their home.
There is also a mental or psychological component to this where studies have gone into a pediatric unit with young children and asked the children how they feel before and after having pets come in to see them. They self-reported that both physical and mental pain was lower following surgery if pets came in to visit them while they were in the hospital. Autistic children with pets in their home have greater language capabilities and greater social interaction. There is something about interacting with a pet and taking care of it that causes these kids to have greater social interaction with other people. And finally there is decreased loneliness for people who own pets based on surveys of people before and after they own pets.
Next Janet talked about the basics of pet behaviour. Pets usually behave in a way that has the most likelihood of getting them what they want. In dog training there are many different schools of thought and the old way of training was based on punishment however the new way of training is based on positive reinforcement. By positive it means that you are adding something to get the behaviour to happen more often. Negative reinforcement is when you take something away. So positive reinforcement is giving a dog treats or lots of praise. Also toys can be used if a dog likes to play and receive praise while playing. Intermittent reinforcement, meaning you only use it once in a while, is the strongest reinforcement there is. This is similar in people such as when you are gambling at a slot machine and you only win once in a while, it keeps you coming back for more, especially if you win “big” at the outset. So if you use this in animal training it is a good way of reinforcing the animal’s behaviour. You need to be aware of what you are actually reinforcing and that it is what you want.
One type of training is called “clicker-training.” This is based on a clicker device that makes a sound the dog becomes familiar with and is associated with getting a treat for good behaviour.
Dr. Cutler then went on to talk about preventing aggression. One of the ways of preventing aggression is based on socialization and also to refrain from punishment. Furthermore the dog must have a lot of physical and mental stimulation. Socialization is the learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society. We teach our children how to do this and we should also teach our pets to do this. Puppies and kittens have a socialization window. This is a period of time when they are kind of prime to experience new things without being scared of them and for puppies this is a period of four to sixteen weeks of age. For kittens the window is smaller and is four to seven weeks of age. These numbers aren’t exact and are variable but depend on the animal’s personality and breed. They can be trained beyond these windows but they are much more suspicious in nature.
In the training dogs and cats should be exposed to everything else they are going to experience in their world. This includes positive exposures to people, places, animals, noises, surfaces, and handling etcetera. If there are children who haven’t had exposure to animals, it is important to get that exposure in order for the child and the animal to get used to one another. Animals that attended puppy or dog classes were much more likely not to show aggression as a result of the socialization. Owners that attended puppy classes to help the puppy to learn socialization were more likely to report use of redirection. For instance, it’s a concept that if the puppy was biting your hand, giving it a toy to bite instead redirects that behaviour. What you do with young animals is important to prevent aggression. It is important to rewarding correct behaviour rather than punishing it. Owner’s that didn’t go to dog or puppy classes were more likely to yell or scream at their dog and hold it down on the back as a form of punishment. Owners were more likely to attend a puppy class if they gathered information before getting their puppy.
Another thing learned in the study of animal behaviour is that if you punish a dog it can lead to aggression. In Dr. Cutler’s experience 95% of the time in going into people’s home to assist with dog training, the majority of aggression observed in pets is due to fear. If you punish fear, that actually increases the dog’s fear and anxiety. So in yelling at the dog for barking or growling you are increasing the dog’s fear, which leads to more aggression. In some studies where owners reported the use of punishment this resulted in increased number of problem behaviours in their dog. So the findings are that punishment leads to increased bad behaviours in dogs.
Dr. Cutler explained the signs and body language of dogs and cats and how to recognize if the animal was fearful or excited or anxious.
The way to prevent aggression is to give the animal lots of physical and mental stimulation. Cats, for instance, are usually home all day and they become bored and have lots of energy. This can also lead to aggression. One way to prevent this is to use an animal puzzle. An example is to use an animal puzzle that lets the cat play and be rewarded by finding or releasing some food from the puzzle. You can also use a “food ball” by putting the cat or dog’s whole food ration in the ball and they have to roll the ball around to release the food. This helps to stimulate and prevent boredom in the animal as well as providing some exercise to release excess energy.
If there is problem behaviour it should be fixed right away or the bad behaviour becomes fixed and it becomes more difficult to remove it. Some behaviours are medical problems that need to be remedied by seeing a veterinarian. Alternatively the pet owner should find a pet trainer/behaviour consultant such as Dr. Cutler, who then needs to determine why the animal is behaving like it does.
In conclusion pets are good for both physical and mental well-being. Reinforce behaviours positively with treats and praise and with the right timing and the right reinforcers. Aggression can be prevented primarily through socialization and refraining from punishment and keeping your pet in good physical health.
A question and answer period followed the presentation.
Julian Sale thanked Janet Cutler and presented her with a token of the Club’s appreciation.
Activities: - A night at the races at Elora Race Track is scheduled for September 26th @6:00 pm. - Sign up sheets are on the welcome table. - Elliott Coach Lines is looking for school bus drivers and you can get more information at: 519 8225225 Coffee Meetings - at two locations: The Boathouse and the Airpark Café on alternate Thursday’s at 10:00 am.
Next Meeting: Thursday, July 20th with John Sheflin on the topic of Toronto Police Services; This meeting will be held in the church sanctuary.