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/recent graduate student projects

Puppy Management and Development

Quinn Rausch completed their PhD looking at how early puppy management practices influence behaviour development later in life. Initially we surveyed dog breeders across Canada and the United States to collect information on puppy management. Next we examined early competitive behaviour in puppies to determine which factors influenced it and we are currently looking at associations with later development of resource guarding behaviour. You can read Quinn’s PhD thesis here.

Human-Rabbit Relationships

Carol Tinga is a PhD candidate using mixed methods to understand human-rabbit relationships and the factors that might lead to either stronger attachment or thoughts of giving a rabbit up. She is also looking at recent trends in rabbit relinquishment at shelters and other rabbit care organizations in Canada and the US to try to understand the factors leading to increased rabbit numbers in shelters.