Photo of two cats, a brown tabby and an orange tabby, resting together. The orange tabby is yawning.

Our Research

General Research Themes:

Our current research is mainly focused on investigating factors that influence the expression of fear and aggression in companion species, including dogs, cats and rabbits.  We conduct both fundamental research aimed at understanding the development and maintenance of fear and aggression, and applied research examining strategies for prevention and treatment. See below for information on our current research projects.

Ongoing research on this topic includes:

  • Development of fear and aggression: We are conducting longitudinal studies following animals from birth through adoption and into adulthood to examine interactions between temperament, experiences during early rearing (e.g., maternal behaviour, socialization, management of feeding and play), and experiences following adoption (e.g., enrichment, training methods).
  • Identification of fear and aggression: We are conducting behaviours tests to determine which behavioural and physiological measures are valid and reliable indicators of fear and aggression at different life stages (e.g., puppies/kittens, adult animals) and in different contexts (e.g., general, during handling).  We are also looking at whether owners are able to recognize and properly interpret these behaviours in terms of fear and aggression.
  • Reducing fear and aggression during veterinary care: We are examining a variety of strategies for reducing stress in animals during routine veterinary handling and procedures.

Other ongoing research is focused on key welfare issues relevant to companion species:

  • Identification of cat affective states based on facial expressions (with Dr. Georgia Mason, Animal Biosciences)
  • Welfare impacts of uncontrolled outdoor access for cats
  • Effects of chronic pain on cognitive abilities in dogs (with Dr. Mark Hurtig, Clinical Studies)
  • Risk factors for scratching and declawing in companion cats 

More information on current graduate student projects

Puppy Management and Development

Quinn Rausch is a PhD candidate looking at how early puppy management practices influence behaviour development later in life. Initially we will survey dog breeders across Canada and the United States to collect information on socialization practices, training, and different breeder demographics to get a better understanding of what breeders are doing to manage their puppies and what factors might influence how much they socialize their puppies before adoption. As a next step, future studies will examine how these early management factors influence the puppy’s behaviour throughout their first year of life in their adoptive homes and how competitive behaviour develops in puppy-hood. If you are a dog breeder and interested in participating in this research please check out our ongoing recruitment page here.

Human-Rabbit Relationships

Carol Tinga is a PhD candidate working on epidemiology studies and animal welfare experiments to explore risk factors and to test the hypothesis that the human-animal bond can be enhanced through environmental and social enrichments that make rabbits more engaging pets. Specifically her project will examine:

  • environmental enrichment
  • social enrichment
  • pet rabbit play behaviour and contentedness
  • human-directed rabbit behaviour
  • rabbit-directed human behaviour
  • development and strength of the human-rabbit bond and implications for pet rabbit welfare