Research

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As you explore this site, you will find our research takes us in many different directions. Generally, however, we can group our studies into five main areas:

Human factors influencing human-companion animal relationships
Not everyone makes a great pet owner. To find out why we have examined why dog and cat adoptions succeed or fail, and how strongly-committed owners differ from those who are less committed. We have looked at how owners contribute to animal health problems such as obesity, and why dog owners prefer some breeds over others, choose to dock some dogs’ tails, and attend training classes. We have also developed a questionnaire to measure the strength of people’s relationship with their companion dog and cat.

Animal factors influencing human-companion animal relationships
Not all animals make equally terrific pets. To explore this, we have worked with shelters to categorise factors associated with different outcomes for admitted animals, and we have asked Australians to describe their ‘ideal’ dog. We have also developed behavioural assessments for shelter dogs and dogs in the community, and constructed a model of canine personality. More recently we have extended our work to cats, and have also started to investigate the development of social cognition in puppies. If we can figure out when young animals are able to learn different skills, we can help them adjust by providing appropriate experiences.

Social and political factors influencing human-companion animal relationships
We spend a lot of time collecting information for Federal, State and local governments to assist them in the development of good policies, informed by science. We have explored the issue of cat overpopulation, writing several detailed reports and contributing to the very successful ‘Who’s For Cats?’ campaign. In addition, we have recently conducted research for the National Disability Insurance Agency, exploring issues related to assistance animals in Australia.

Companion animals in human health
Studies have suggested that companion animals can improve human physical, psychological and social health, but we need to explore how this works and which people can benefit. We have conducted several studies investigating how specially trained animals can be used to help people with dementia or developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder. Our results are promising, but we desperately need funding to continue this important work.

Companion animal welfare
Although many companion animals live terrific lives, there is always room for improvement. Some of our research involves trying to improve the lives of companion animals living in confined situations, such as kennels, catteries and shelters. We also spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to help people select the most appropriate pets, and how to train and socialise them appropriately.