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Friday, 1 December 2017

What Do You Get When You Cross an Anthropologist and a Zoologist?

Please welcome today's guest contributor, Molly Crossman, MS, MPhil, (Twitter) for a brief introduction to the science of Anthrozoology. After reading this post, you'll hopefully add Becoming an Anthrozoologist to your reading list! This new blog is put out by the student committee of the International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ website, FB, Twitter), and they're seeking contributions (details below).


Naruto’s Selfie. Credit: David Slater, Wikimedia Commons  
If you like animals* (and I’m guessing you do if you’re reading this), you probably know the story of Balto, the heroic sled dog who saved an Alaskan city from a diphtheria epidemic. Or maybe you remember Clever Hans, the horse who could apparently do arithmetic, but was really just reading unconscious nonverbal cues from the people around him (and taught us all a lot about expectancy effects as a result). More recently, you may have heard about Cecil the lion, who galvanized public interest in wildlife welfare after being shot and killed by big game hunters. The list of infamous animals goes on, from Naruto, the monkey who took one of the most famous selfies of all time, to Duke, the dog who was elected mayor of a Minnesota town three times in a row.  

These stories about animals get widespread attention, capture our hearts, and often lead to changes not only in our attitudes towards animals, but in how we treat and protect them. But these stories aren’t really just about animals. These are stories about human interactions with animals. These stories are about the roles that animals play in our lives, and the roles that we play in theirs’. And there is an entire field of study devoted to understanding these kinds of interactions between people and animals. 

Anthrozoology is the multidisciplinary study of interactions between people and animals. Anthrozoologists come from a wide range of disciplines including ethology, biology, education, environmental science, history, literature, neuroscience, nursing, occupational therapy, psychology, sociology, and veterinary medicine (to name just a few examples). What anthrozoologists all have in common is that they apply their diverse expertise to ask and answer questions about human-animal relationships.


Anthrozoologists are the folks who brought us the revelation that dogs are more important than cats when it comes to online dating, showed that dogs facilitate social interactions for individuals with physical disabilities, revealed serious ethical issues with dolphin-assisted therapy, demonstrated why people think happier chickens lay tastier eggs, helped us understand who owns pets (and who doesn’t), and explained why people are compelled to (illegally) keep primates as pets. In other words, anthrozoologists do some really cool science.  

So, now that I’ve (hopefully) piqued your interest, where should you go to keep up with the latest in anthrozoology? I’m so glad you asked! 

Becoming an Anthrozoologist is the new blog from the student committee of the International Society for Anthrozoology. We started the blog as a way to share information on human-animal science and to help students in the field promote their work. 

Our first post came out in October, and I think it will be of interest to DYBID readers. The post was written by Lynna Feng, of the Anthrozoology Research Group at La Trobe University. In it, Lynna discusses a topic that is as personal, controversial, and polarizing as parenting techniques, and that’s dog training methods. 



Wikimedia Commons 
You are probably already familiar with the ongoing debate around positive, reward-based training methods versus dominance-based methods (if you aren’t familiar with the debate, Dr. Sophia Yin, an advocate for positive training techniques, has a helpful description on her website). But, did you know that there’s controversy even among those who agree about the importance of using positive approaches?

In her post, Lynna addresses the debate surrounding clicker training. She discusses a recent study, in which she and her supervisors evaluated what clicker training is, and why it’s controversial. Lynna gets into why people use clicker training, and what trainers’ think are best practices. For details about what she found, be sure to read the post! 

We plan to publish the blog quarterly, so look for the next edition in January and be sure to follow the ISAZ Student Blog. If you are not already a member of ISAZ, we also hope you will consider joining. Check out the ISAZ website for more information on becoming a member, and be sure to visit the 2018 conference website for information on the upcoming conference in Sydney, Australia. The deadline for conference submissions is January 18, 2018. 

P.S., If you’re a student member of ISAZ, we hope you will consider submitting something to the blog! 

* Humans are, of course, a type of animal. However, for the sake of clarity and consistency with linguistic norms, I use the term “animal” here to refer to specifically to nonhuman animals. 


Grad Student & Co-Director of Innovative Interactions Lab 
Department of Psychology, Yale University 
Email: molly.crossman@yale.edu
Twitter: @mollycrossman

DYBID here! Did you know that Molly first contributed to DYBID with a post about her research: "Can Therapy Dogs Help Students Handle Stress?" Thanks very much for joining us again, Molly!