Thursday, April 26, 2012

New research-- Horses need friends too!

I wanted to highlight a recent paper that has just been published in the Journal of Ethology examining the interactions among a managed population of Sorraia mares in Portugal.

File:Sorraia.convex profile.jpg

First of all Sorraia is evidently a rare (endangered)  breed of horse that is indigenous to Portugal. They were re-discovered in the 20th centurary and there are re-establishment projects in the works. Check out how lovely they are! evidently they are most often grullo (wikipedia)!

The research project examined affiliations among the mares comparing them to the reproductive status, relatedness, age, and dominance of the individuals. An affiliation is defined as a "long lasting relationship between two mares which are reflected in spatial proximity and participation in affiliative interactions, such as mutual grooming" We all have seen this--- domesticated horses (mares and geldings)sometimes preferentially hang around one horse in particular. We catch them grooming each other etc... We make comments like "Beau and Magic are such buddies".

This study found that kinship (relatedness) did not significantly affect these affiliative relationships and that individuals tended to spend more time with others in the same reproductive state. They found these friendships were relatively stable as well but their strength decreases after foaling. I don't know about you but I am seeing many parallels between horses and humans in this respect. :)

I think this research highlights the importance for equine friendships. So what could we learn from this research? Maybe we can all try and be more cognisant of these lasting friendships in our horses when we are moving them around between pastures and between barns etc. I know I have moved Bodhi several times now forcing him to loose several close friends. This of course can't always be helped but if we pay attention to the natural bonds in our horses then we can reduce their stress by not unnecessarily splitting them from their good friends.

Also for managers of breeding facilities it seems this paper highlights the importance of keeping brood mares together especially when they are pregnant. It seems they form the strongest bonds.

Here is another article summarizing the paper

Filipa Heitor and Luis Vicente 2010. Affiliative relationships among Sorraia mares; influence of age, dominance, kinshop and reproductive state. Ethology, 28, 133-140.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

problem solving

Sorry for the lack of action here at GPG. I am in the middle of writing my thesis and I have had little time for anything else. I will hopefully be back soon though at full force!

Bodhi and I are doing very well. I am now taking dressage and western riding lessons! In between lessons I sharpen what we have learned from the instructors by having a shaping session with the clicker. It is amazing how much we are getting accomplished considering we have just a few hours a week together. I feel like we are really training smart now. I will be going to a multi-day clinic with trainer Shawn Seabrook in the beginning of May. I will have to write about that as well!

Now I wanted to share a funny anecdote about Sarge the cat:

Sarge and I were in a battle of wills. See I wanted to feed everyone (Stella the dog, Pele and Sarge, the cats and Brie and Truffle, the rats) at 8:00 pm every night. Sarge thought he could convince me to feed him earlier if he just tried hard enough. So that meant when I get home from work and start working at the computer he starts his cat antics--- meowing, scratching at things and sometimes even pawing me on the shoulder! The more I said no the more he dug in. You have to admire his persistence! I am sure everyone with cats understands just how persistent they can be!
I had no idea how to stop this behavior until I started thinking about an anecdote given in Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor. This story was about a dog that would not stop scratching at the door if I remember correctly. The crafty caretakers decided to use a conditioned stimulus to solve their problem. They hung a towel on the door and let the dog into the room every time he scratched. Then, they alternated having the towel on the door and off the door and only let the dog in when the towel was on the door. Soon the dog learned that his request for admittance would only be heard when that towel was on the door. They made sure to have the towel on the door sometimes giving the dog the chance to ask and they finally got a good nights sleep!
I love this story because it gives a creative solution to reduce a behavior without punishment and it also gives the animal a voice. That dog was obviously frustrated his requests to come in the room were not being heard. By teaching the animal when it is appropriate to ask for something it really reduces their stress and your stress. It is a win win.

So back to Sarge the cat--- I wanted to do something similar to the dog and the towel but what? I know he naturally loved to paw and scratch at everything. So I decided to make Sarge a sign that he could paw when he would like to be fed. The first night I put it up I kept an eye on him as he did his evening antics and sure enough he just happened to paw the sign! I said good! and immediately got up and fed everyone dinner. Amazingly, it only took him a few nights for him to understand the game! Now I put the sign up at around 6pm. He can choose when he would like to be fed from then on. He will nap on the couch, stretch and walk up and tap his sign when he wants to be fed-easy as that. Sometimes he wants to be fed even before I put his sign up. He walks up and looks for his sign and when he does not see it he just goes and lies back down. Amazing! I know we are both happier. Sarge is an intelligent cat and he must of felt so frustrated when I ignored his attempts to communicate. Now that he has an outlet he seems more content.

Here is a video of Sarge patting his sign to get his dinner!

Have you solved any human-animal conflicts in a creative way? I would love to hear about it!