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Research

The Animal Behaviour Centre is involved in a diverse range of innovative research programmes, a few examples of which are provided below:

Environmental Enrichment

The Centre is heavily involved in finding ways of improving the psychological well-being of captive animals through the implementation of scientifically tried and tested environmental enrichment schemes. Over the years, researchers have led the way in evaluating the efficacy of various types of sensory stimulation (auditory, visual, olfactory) and other enrichment schemes on the behaviour and welfare of animals housed in rescue shelters (dogs, cats), zoos (primates, cats, elephants) and on farms (pigs). Funding for this work has been provided by a variety of organisations including DEFRA, the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare and the British Psychological Society. The findings from the work have attracted prestigious research awards, informed policy and practice, and helped to improve the housing of animals kept in institutional settings.

Pets and Human Health

The notion that pets are good for us is by no means a new one; scientific evidence for a link between companion animals and human health, however, is still relatively sparse. Researchers at the Animal Behaviour Centre have thus been exploring the ability of animals to serve as social facilitators and act as mediators to stress. More recently, funding has been secured to undertake exciting, and thus far overlooked, studies on the effect of pets on people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME (funded by the Society of Companion Animal Studies) and the ability of dogs to serve as detectors of hypoglycaemia in people with Type 1 diabetes (funded by Diabetes UK).

Puppies

Animal Olfaction

In addition to exploring the value of odours as a method of environment enrichment for captive animals (see above), researchers at the Centre have been investigating the tracking skills of domestic dogs and, more recently, prenatal olfactory learning in dogs and cats.  This work has shown that dogs are proficient at following the correct direction of a human-laid trail, and can successfully following trails after only a small number of footsteps have been laid.  The olfactory acuity of the great apes is also the focus of research attention, exploring, for the first time, the importance of odour cues to one of our closest living cousins (for further details see Project SOAP).

Selected Publications

Dogs

Wells, D.L. (2007). Domestic dogs and human health: an overview. British Journal of Health Psychology 12, 145-156.

Hepper, P.G. & Wells, D.L. (2005). How many footsteps do dogs need to determine the direction of an odour trail? Chemical Senses 30, 291-298.

Wells, D.L. (2004). A review of environmental enrichment for kennelled dogs, Canis familiaris. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 85, 307-317.

Cats

Ellis, S.L.H & Wells, D.L. (in press). The influence of visual stimulation on the behaviour of cats housed in a rescue shelter. Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

Wells, D.L. & Egli, J.M. (2004). The influence of olfactory enrichment on the behaviour of black-footed cats, Felis nigripes. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 85, 107-119.

Courtney, N. & Wells, D.L. (2002). The discrimination of cat odours by humans. Perception 31, 511-512.

Primates

Wells, D.L., Hepper, P.G., Coleman, D. & Challis, M.G. (2007). A note on the effect of olfactory stimulation on the behaviour and welfare of zoo-housed gorillas. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 106, 155-160.

Wells, D.L. (2005). A note on the effect of zoo visitors on the behaviour and welfare of captive gorillas. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 93, 13-17.

Blaney, E.C. & Wells, D.L. (2004). The influence of a camouflage net barrier on the behaviour, welfare and public perceptions of zoo-housed gorillas. Animal Welfare 13, 111-118.

Pigs

O’Connell, N.E., Beattie, V.E., Sneddon, I.A. et al. (2005). Influence of individual predisposition, maternal experience and lactation environment on the responses of pigs to weaning at two different ages. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 90, 219-232.

Durrell J.L, Sneddon I.A, O'Connell N.E, et al. (2004). Do pigs form preferential associations? Applied Animal Behaviour Science 89, 41-52.

Durrell J.L, Beattie V.E, Sneddon I.A, et al. (2003). Pre-mixing as a technique for facilitating subgroup formation and reducing sow aggression in large dynamic groups. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 84, 89-99.

Research Links