Health / Features

Is your dog an optimist?

By ann sheldon, Tuesday Aug 2, 2016

Are some dogs pessimists? Arthritis is known to cause depression in people so final year vet student Lauren Harris is studying if arthritic dogs can feel blue too. Based at the University of Bristol Vet School she is studying the emotional impact of osteoarthritis in dogs. This current study (which she is still recruiting for) has been her favourite part of the PhD so far, involving herself and colleague, Kate, in visiting people, from all walks of life, with their canine companions in their homes. 

Current results indicate that some dogs are more inclined see their food bowl half empty then half full. The study is open until the end of December, so if you fancy checking out your pooch’s positivity, here’s how it works.

The requirements for dog entrants is that they must be over six years old and weigh more than twelve kilos. Two types of dog are required. The first are dogs showing signs of arthritis in their hind legs – such as difficulty jumping or getting up after a rest. They must be otherwise fit and well and not on regular pain medication. The second category are dogs that are fit and well.

Stanley one of the dogs in the trial

Lauren and Kate will visit your home and train your dog to flip a cardboard lid off its food dish using its nose. It gets a doggie treat at first but later in the study the bowl may be empty. The point of the study is to see how fast and often the dog will attempt to get a treat by lid flipping. Afterwards owner needs to take their dog to the vet school for a clinical assessment by a vet. This uses a pressure sensor to measure joint sensitivity and takes an hour. Lauren is as interested by the variation in owners’ responses to the task as it is the dogs’: some owners insist that their dog is “too dim” to learn the task, whereas others act like competitive parents, demanding to know how their dog’s performance measures up to others!

Afterwards the owner gets a treat for their efforts – a £10 John Lewis voucher. To join in this study contact Lauren on: or 07840 602 154

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