Hope for dogs with separation related problems

New research being undertaken by staff at the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, hopes to simplify treatment for dogs with separation related problems.

Does your dog get distressed when left alone?

If so, the Animal Behaviour, Cognition and Welfare group from the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, is offering an amazing opportunity for your dog to take part in a study which hopes to simplify the treatment of this common and complicated problem. Previous research indicates that up to 80% of dogs improve with a generic treatment plan, which the School is now making more specific and simpler for owners.

Could your dog benefit from our research?
Could your dog benefit from our research?


If you and your dog would like to take part in this exciting study where the most recent treatment techniques will be applied over eight weeks, then the School of Life Sciences would like to hear from you. You will need to be able to bring your dog to the University of Lincoln at a select number of times during this period, however, the treatment offered is free of charge.

For more details, please contact Luciana S. de Assis: lassis@lincoln.ac.uk

What’s in an oink?

Did you know that the grunts made by pigs vary depending on the pig’s personality and can show important information about the welfare of this highly social species?


Animal behaviour and welfare scientists from the University of Lincoln, UK and Queens University Belfast devised an experiment to investigate the relationship between personality and the rate of grunting in pigs. They also looked into how different quality living conditions effected these vocalisations.

Findings from the study have now been released in the Royal Society journal Open Science.

The study involved 72 male and female juvenile pigs. Half were housed in spacious ‘enriched’ pens with straw bedding, while the other half were kept in more compact ‘barren’ pens with partially slatted concrete floors, which adhered to UK welfare requirements.

To get a measure of the pigs’ personalities, the researchers conducted two tests: a social isolation test and a novel object test. Each pig spent three minutes in social isolation, and five minutes in a pen with a large white bucket or an orange traffic cone they had not previously encountered. Their behaviour, including vocalisations, were observed. These tests were repeated two weeks later, allowing the researchers to determine if the pigs’ responses were repeatable – the defining characteristic of personality (also known as ‘coping style’ in animals).

They also recorded the frequency of grunts they made by counting the number of grunts produced per minute of the test, and investigated the effect different quality environments had on the sounds made.

The study indicated that pigs with more proactive personality types produced grunts at a higher rate than the more reactive animals. The study also found that male pigs (but not females) kept in the lower-quality conditions made fewer grunts compared with those housed in the enriched environment, suggesting greater susceptibility among male pigs to environmental factors.

So the more a pig oinks, the happier a pig could be!

The results add to evidence that acoustic signalling indicates personality in pigs. This may have had far reaching consequences in shaping the evolution of social behaviours, the researchers believe. The findings also suggest personality needs to be kept in mind when using vocalisation as a measure of the animals’ welfare status.

Principal investigator, Dr Lisa Collins, a specialist in animal health, behaviour and welfare epidemiology in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, said: “The domestic pig is a highly social and vocal species which uses acoustic signals in a variety of ways; maintaining contact with other group members while foraging, parent–offspring communication, or to signal if they are distressed.

“The sounds they make convey a wide range of information such as the emotional, motivational and physiological state of the animal. For example, squeals are produced when pigs feel fear, and may be either alerting others to their situation or offering assurance. Grunts occur in all contexts, but are typical of foraging to let other members of the group know where they are.”

Mary Friel, lead author of the study and PhD student at Queen’s University Belfast, added: “The aim of this research was to investigate what factors affect vocalisations in pigs so that we can better understand what information they convey. Understanding how the vocalisations of pigs’ relate to their personality will also help animal behaviourists and welfare experts have a clearer picture of the impact those personalities have on communication, and thus its role in the evolution of social behaviour and group dynamics in social species.”

Volunteers for studies to help rescue centres rehome dogs

A researcher at the University of Lincoln, UK, is conducting two studies looking to gain a deeper understanding of the factors behind dog surrender.

Karen Griffin, PhD student in the School of Life Sciences, is looking for volunteers to complete two different surveys examining the factors that lead to people giving up or keeping their dog.

The first survey (click here) is for anybody who has ever voluntarily given up a pet dog in the past, to another individual, party or organisation.

The second survey (click here) is for long-term dog owners, examining factors that lead to people keeping their dogs. Participants must have owned their pet dog for a minimum of three years, and the dog must have lived with them for them for the duration of this time.

Measures for both surveys have been adapted from their original purpose of placing human foster children with families, to be relevant to the dog-owner relationship. As such, some of the items included in the questionnaires may seem unusual or irrelevant.

However, one of the aims of this research is to determine which items are necessary and which items can be omitted without affecting the validity of the adapted measures.

Participation in this research would involve the anonymous completion of two questionnaire-style surveys and a form to gather data about the participant and the dog. For the second survey participants would also be asked to complete a brief survey about how they feel about their relationship with their dog.

The research has the potential to greatly aid the efficiency of finding appropriate homes for dogs in the future. The ultimate aim would be the creation of an accessible and easily administrable measure to be employed at rescue centres and other such organisations during the rehoming process, to identify different at-risk adopters, so that limited resources can be focused more effectively in providing support where necessary.

Each survey takes approximately 15-20 minutes to complete.

Karen has previously been interviewed about her research on Scientific American Blog, Dog Spies.

(Photo credit: Jerry Green Dog Rescue)

How to keep dogs healthy and happy when they cannot exercise

Animal behaviour experts have released a new book providing help and guidance for dog owners whose pets cannot exercise due to illness or surgery.

‘No walks? No worries! – Maintaining wellbeing in dogs on restricted exercise’, by Sian Ryan, from Developing Dogs, and Helen Zulch, from the University of Lincoln, UK, aims to help owners identify the needs of their dog and offer support in preparing their dog for a period of restricted exercise, such as when surgical interventions are planned.

It also assists owners in managing their dogs in the recovery stage post-surgery, during illness or in the longer term if the illness or injury means a permanent restriction in activity.

Until now little advice was available on keeping dogs healthy and happy while their usual exercise is limited. Owners are left to manage as best they can, which can be stressful for both owner and dog, and can lead to behavioural changes and problems in the animal.

The book, written by professionals in their field, offers ideas and tips for dog owners to provide mental stimulation and emotional support for their pets – as well as alternatives to physical exercise and guidance on specific skills.

Helen Zulch is a certified professional clinical animal behaviourist (CCAB) based in Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences where she undertakes research, lectures at undergraduate and postgraduate level and sees cases in the University of Lincoln Animal Behaviour Referral Clinic.

She said: “Over the years I have consulted with a number of owners of dogs that are struggling to come to terms with a restriction of their physical activity, or where these restrictions have led to the development of serious behaviour problems. I hope that this book will be of use to dog owners as well as the professionals assisting them and will ultimately improve these dogs’ quality of life.”

Sian has an MSc in Clinical Animal Behaviour and has many years’ experience as a dog trainer and behaviour counsellor. She has worked in the Behaviour Clinic at the University of Lincoln and as a researcher in dog behaviour.

She has her own training and education centre, Developing Dogs, where she runs classes, workshops and seminars for dog owners and trainers.

Sian said: “I have fostered dogs for several rescue organisations, including a 12-week old Sighthound puppy which had been abandoned at a veterinary surgery with a badly broken leg. This puppy – of typically high energy and in need of exercise and socialisation – required nine months of care and rehabilitation, and was the catalyst for writing this book.”

No walks? No worries! (2014) by Sian Ryan and Helen Zulch is published by Hubble & Hattie.

Science festival attracts prominent academics

Professor Daniel Mills

Leading researchers in cancer treatment, retinal disease and the health benefits provided by companion animals will be speaking at a science, arts and heritage festival celebrating the area’s close connection with Sir Isaac Newton.

The Gravity Fields Festival, which takes place in Grantham, Lincolnshire, from 24-28th September 2014, pays homage to the world’s most influential physicist and mathematician, who was born and made many of his most important findings at nearby Woolsthorpe Manor.

On Thursday 25th September Professor Daniel Mills, from the University’s School of Life Sciences, will be delivering a lecture ‘Companion Animals and our Multispecies Society’ at Grantham Guildhall from 2.45pm.

He said: “Companion animals have enormous potential economic, health and social values to society, but the domestic environment is becoming an increasingly difficult area for them to peacefully co-exist with us. At the University of Lincoln we have been examining both the benefits and problems that arise to develop innovative solutions, discussed in this talk.”

Also taking part in the packed five-day programme of events is Professor Nigel Allinson MBE, Distinguished Professor of Image Engineering at the University of Lincoln, UK, who leads a pioneering research consortium into proton beam therapy as a more effective radiotherapy treatment for thousands of cancer sufferers.

He fronts the ground-breaking PRaVDA (Proton Radiotherapy Verification and Dosimetry Applications) project, which aims to create one of the most advanced medical imaging systems ever imagined.

The patent-pending technology would enable clinicians to see in real time and in 3D how particles interact with a tumour during proton beam therapy – considered the Holy Grail of radiotherapy. It has the potential to make proton therapy safer and more effective.

The PRaVDA project is funded with a £1.6m grant from the Wellcome Trust and involves a multinational team of clinicians, physicists, engineers and computer scientists.

Professor Allinson’s talk, ‘Treating and Seeing Cancer with Protons’, will take place at 10.30am at the Angel and Royal Hotel in Grantham on Saturday 27th September 2014.

He said: “Reducing the uncertainty of where the proton dose is delivered from several centimetres to a few millimetres will allow difficult tumours to be treated and greatly reduce any dose to healthy tissue.”

The University is also staging an interactive display relating to the talk and technology as part of the festival’s science fair in The George Centre.

On Wednesday 24th September members of the public will have the chance to question leading science experts from around the UK as they debate the issues that will dominate our future.

Chaired by Justin Webb from BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, panellists include Professor Andrew Hunter (Computer Vision and Artificial Intelligence, and Pro Vice Chancellor University of Lincoln), Professor John Burn (Clinical Genetics, Newcastle), Professor Valerie Gibson (High Energy Physics, Cambridge and CERN), and Dr Melody Clark (British Antarctic Survey). Science Futures will take place at St Wulfram’s Church from 7.45pm.

Dr Anna Marie Roos, historian of science and medicine, from the University’s College of Arts, will be examining what drugs were prescribed by apothecaries in the 17th Century, how they were made, and the professional standing of apothecaries and physicians.

Her talk ‘Newton and the Apothecary’ will take place from 3.45pm at the Angel and Royal Hotel on Thursday 25th September.

Gravity Fields Festival now has three high profile patrons, Professor Valerie Gibson, Grantham born and now one of the UK’s top women scientists, TV presenter Dallas Campbell and Rob Iliffe, a world authority on Sir Isaac Newton.
For more on Gravity Fields festival go to http://www.gravityfields.co.uk/