Never seen the word “Anthrozoology” before? That’s okay. If you looked at the word and focused on the “ant” part, then try again. Instead, “Anthro” and “Zoology” are the interesting bits, and broadly speaking anthrozoology is the study of human-animal interactions and relationships. This is how it’s pronounced, along with a brief primer:

As the name suggests, anthrozoological pursuits are interdisciplinary and can cover a multitude of topics like human attitudes toward animals, questions regarding the welfare of animals and even mechanisms underlying human-animal exchanges. Research topics might investigate human affinity for animals and the potential benefits (or costs) associated with creating and sustaining interspecific bonds. For example, there are a host of research questions one might ask about Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT): is AAT equally “good” or appropriate for all human populations, or do only certain people and populations benefit? Might a person with dementia be as excited to receive a visit from a stuffed interactive toy as they are to receive a visit from a living, breathing dog? And how do we go about measuring potential benefits that come from AAT visits? And of course, we cannot proceed without wondering how we assess the benefits (or costs) to the therapy dogs themselves. Lots to think about!

Animal assisted therapy is just one topic prime for the anthrozoological picking. Other research topics might investigate the validity of “black dog syndrome,” humans’ perceptions of different dog breeds or whether and how a dog in a classroom affects student learning and concentration. Anthrozoological research often makes its way into journals like Anthrozoös, Society & Animals, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, and the open access journal, Animals, to name a few. And recently, the American Psychological Association started publishing the open-access, online Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin.

While there are many researchers in this field, a few anthrozoology research groups stand out (and hopefully, groups that I missed will say, "Hey! We should be mentioned!" and add their name and Website/Facebook/Twitter to the below comment section). The Anthrozoology Research Group in Australia (Facebook, Twitter) primarily investigates the ins and outs of our relationships with companion animals, such as when and why these relationships fail or succeed. Here in the States, Christy Hoffman leads the Canisius Canine Research Lab, and you can join one of their latest studies exploring the behavioral characteristics of dogs that do and do not coexist peacefully with cats in the home. In the UK, the Anthrozoology Institute works with the Animal Welfare & Behaviour Group at the University of Bristol on human-animal interaction issues such as farmers’ attitudes towards lameness in cattle and the different attitudes among veterinary surgeons. The research at the Konrad Lorenz Research Station, under the direction of Kurt Kotrschal, uses physiological and behavioral measures to investigate the nuances of dog-human relationships.

If you want an example of anthrozoology in action, check out The Secret Life of the Cat, a research project captured by the BBC featuring researchers John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis and 50 companion cats from the Shamley Green neighborhood of Surrey, England. With the help of GPS tracking devices and cameras, the world got to see a less public side of companion cats -- what happens “when they disappear through the cat flap.” The world watched as the cats visited, avoided and interacted throughout the human environment. And the cats didn't even know they were being watched! How we care for and provide indoor and outdoor environments for cats is an evolving question, and where these new findings will take us is an anthrozoological question in and of itself.

For anyone thinking, “I want more!”, you can have it! Anthrozoology degrees are popping up both in the States and abroad (and if I missed any, that's what the comment section is for):

  • Carroll College (Human-Animal Bond Program): Undergraduate Major in Anthrozoology. Primary focus on canines and equines.

For anyone thinking, “I want more, right now!”, you can have that too! ISAZ, the International Society for Anthrozoology, is holding its annual conference right now in Chicago. The conference program is available here, you can follow the conference on Twitter at #ISAZ2013 or even become a member of ISAZ. I arrived at the conference yesterday with my scientific poster on “The “Guilty Look” in Dogs: Current Research and Future Directions.” Here's a totally staged picture of us discussing a poster at the conference. Many non-staged conversation also occurred.

Following ISAZ, Chicago continues its welcome tour of human-animal research. IAHAIO, the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations, immediately follows ISAZ, July 21-22. Also in Chicago, AVSAB, the Veterinary Behavior Symposium, runs all day July 19. You can find a round-up of summer conferences on the human-animal bond and canine science on my guest post on Patricia McConnell’s blog, The Other End of the Leash. I’ll be covering the conferences as WiFi permits at @DogSpies.

So what questions do you have about our interactions and relationships with non-human animals?

Photo: Creative commons