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How’s Your Dog’s Quality of Life?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Boulder, CO better count its chickens and get its ducks in a row because the Animal Behavior Society is on its way!

That’s right. This weekend, I’m off to the 50th Annual Conference of the Animal Behavior Society in Boulder, CO (Twitter/Facebook). This 5-day conference features inquiry into animal behavior in the broadest sense and pulls from experimental psychology, behavioral ecology, neuroscience, zoology, biology, applied ethology and human ethology.

BUT SUNDAY, July 28 is all about you! Or better said, it’s all about the quality of life of your companion dog or cat. On Sunday, July 28, I’m participating in an all-day, open-to-the-public, free event at UC-Boulder on Creating Quality Lives for Dogs and Cats Through the Science of Animal Behavior.

The event features a powerhouse of speakers and experts in the field of Applied Animal Behavior and Welfare! The day begins with Patricia McConnell, who will help you find your inner Dr. Doolittle. Suzanne Hetts and Dan Estep offer ways to help dogs and cats be (better) buddies. Marc Bekoff explores play in dogs and applies what he learned from their wild relatives. I explain how canine cognition research can make you and your dog both happier (yes, really). Finally, Pamela Reid discusses work with dogs and cats who are victims of human cruelty.

“The notion ‘quality of life’ suggests that welfare in animals encompasses more than just an absence of suffering; it concerns the quality of an animal’s entire relationship with its environment, of how it lives its life” (Wemelsfelder, 2007).

When we think about the companion dogs in our lives, we might assume that their quality-of-life needs are met. After all, unlike farm or lab animals, many companion dogs are privileged enough to live with us in our domestic creations; many eat a wide variety of foods (some especially made for them and other times, our leftovers); they enjoy trips to the park; they receive our attention and concern, and many even sleep in our beds. Ultimately, many companion dogs are seen as family members.

BUT DOES THAT MEAN the quality-of-life needs of companion dogs are being met? Sure, in many cases, companion dogs are free from adversities like hunger, thirst, discomfort, pain, injury, disease, fear and distress. These provisions are part of the Five Freedoms originating from the Brambell Report in 1965, and many companion dogs live their lives somewhat free from those challenges (or at least with a person on hand helping to minimize those challenges). But we also know that good welfare isn’t simply the absence of harmful physiological and psychological states; rather, welfare should also focus on increasing and improving positive states and natural behaviors.

The first step to enhancing the quality-of-life of another species is investigating and understanding their underlying behavioral repertoires and cognitive abilities. By understanding where our non-human friends are coming from, we can provide them with the care and attention they need. Quality of life for companion dogs and cats starts with meeting them where they are.

Image: Creative Commons

Wemelsfelder, F. 2007. How animals communicate quality of life: the qualitative assessment of behaviour. Animal Welfare, Volume 16, Supplement 1, May 2007 , pp. 25-31(7)

Julie Hecht About the Author: Julie Hecht is a canine behavioral researcher, science writer, and PhD student at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She would really like to meet your dog. Follow on Twitter @DogSpies.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. sgarton 3:09 am 07/27/2013

    All dogs are different, with different needs. I’ve worked with many breads of dogs over the years and they are as diverse, if not more diverse, than people. I don’t buy that there are any universal needs of dogs as “animals”, employing there is some natural or genetic environmental need of dogs. This is crap. Again dogs are extremely diverse and while a few, I stress FEW, still exhibit instinctive animalistic, even wild traits that cause them to require certain needs outside of that of most dogs. There are the obvious physical or psychological needs of the breed, such as that of a work breed needing room to run and responsibilities, or lap breed needing to spend the majority of their day with their owner. Although dogs in general want to be with their owner. They want to do what you want to do. They want to please and being with their owner and pleasing their owner is what makes them happy. Its what they live for and it was what they were bread for. Think of them as 3 years old kids. They need love, praise, lots of contact, food, water, and more love. If you own a dog and this is not the case with your dog, and you’ve owned the dog for some time, you may not be meant to be a dog owner.

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  2. 2. Mythusmage 12:16 am 07/28/2013

    I don’t agree that all specimens of a particular species are, ipso facto, the same. Furthermore, I’m convinced we need a better definition of what domestication is, and what a domestic animal is like.

    Ever notice that greater panda mothers are rather laid back about how humans handle their cubs?

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