History

Dog Husbandry

Key Message

WALTHAM continues to lead the way in promoting outstanding levels of pet welfare through:

  • Providing state-of-the-art, environmentally-enriched dog accommodation that surpasses regulatory and welfare requirements and expectations.
  • Ensuring that Caring Science is at the forefront of everything WALTHAM does, by developing alternatives that challenge more traditional scientific procedures.

Background

The WALTHAM Centre is home to approximately 160 dogs.

A huge team of people at WALTHAM is dedicated to the daily care and welfare of the dogs. Every dog is an individual, with different needs and preferences. The carers know each and every dog by name, what they like and dislike, and how they prefer to spend their time. Knowing what is important to each dog is the key to ensuring every dog’s welfare needs are met.

Why WALTHAM is Interested

At WALTHAM, nothing matters more than the welfare of our pets.

The housing and husbandry at WALTHAM is extremely important with substantial time and monetary investment made on a continual basis to ensure that the highest standards are met and that the environment is both stimulating and comforting for our pets.

Creating such an environment and treating the dogs as pets is part of the WALTHAM ethos, and of prime importance for creating sound, robust, relevant science.

Approach

The dog accommodation and environmental enrichment is under continual development, with Caring Science at the forefront of everything WALTHAM does.

Solution (Housing)

WALTHAM provides state-of-the-art, environmentally enriched dog accommodation

At WALTHAM the dog accommodation consists of pens that have been designed to be very flexible. The dogs live in pairs with a carefully selected pen-mate. Each spacious pen consists of an inner area that is centrally heated and provides space for sleeping and eating, with a dog flap providing 24-hour access to an outside pen. (Figure 1) Gates between adjoining pens mean that the dogs can be separated (for example for feeding) or pens can be linked together to facilitate socialisation.

WALTHAM outside pens
©WALTHAM 2012

Figure 1: The dog accommodation at WALTHAM has outside pens with access to paddocks

Solution (Environmental Enrichment)

WALTHAM provides state-of-the-art, environmentally enriched dog accommodation

For all animals, environmental enrichment is essential to allow them to express natural behaviours. This helps to ensure that the animal is more relaxed and content. For dogs, environmental enrichment takes the form of activities, training, play, socialisation and sensory stimulation.

At WALTHAM, each dog receives several hours of socialisation every day – including time spent with other dogs and with their handler and other people.
Socialisation with other dogs is vital – not only because the dogs enjoy it, but because it hones their communication skills, which are essential to pack life. During these periods, each group of dogs is carefully selected by the carers who know each one individually. While some dogs like to spend this time playing, others prefer a quieter life, albeit in the company of other dogs. The dogs are released together into secure paddocks, where they enjoy just being dogs.

Each dog at WALTHAM is allocated a handler, who is responsible for their training and activities. This is important because both dogs and humans like to form close bonds. The dogs all have scheduled time spent with their handler. How this time is spent varies from day to day and from dog to dog, depending on needs and the studies they are involved in. It often involves simple play (for example retrieving a ball) or more challenging activities (such as flyball or agility Figure 2). Preparing dogs for taking part in our studies also forms part of the training and socialisation programme. During this time they learn skills that are vital for taking part in studies – such as standing or lying still on a table, or being comfortable with having their mouth examined.

WALTHAM activities
©WALTHAM 2012

Figure 2: The dogs at WALTHAM enjoy many types of activities

The dogs are trained to be well-mannered. All training at WALTHAM is reward-based positive reinforcement using clicker-training. Good behaviour is rewarded, whilst bad behaviour is ignored. Until 2005, WALTHAM held the world record for the largest number of dogs sitting at once for two minutes – 76 dogs!

A comprehensive programme is in place to socialise puppies at WALTHAM, to help them grow up into confident well-balanced dogs. For puppies born at WALTHAM this programme starts at birth.  From birth, puppies are gradually accustomed to being handled and are introduced to the sights and sounds of WALTHAM (Figure 3). At about 8 weeks of age, each puppy is assigned to a group of about six puppies and an adult dog (known as a ‘sentinel’ dog) who is known to enjoy being around and to behave well with puppies. The group is given time each day to play in the paddock, with the puppies behaviour continuously monitored (to ensure no inappropriate behaviour has time to set in). In addition, all puppies attend Puppy School (30 minutes each day) where they continue to encounter a range of people and objects and mix with a variety of other puppies of various ages as well as adult dogs. At Puppy School, people dress up in a variety of different clothes and sometimes put on wigs, hats and false beards to show the puppies that all people are friendly, whatever they look like. The puppies are also introduced to novel objects (including wheelchairs, bicycles and umbrellas) and spend time in a specially-designed socialisation room where they can experience objects such as a washing machine, television and radio. Basic obedience training is important for puppies, and is the foundation for developing sociable, confident and happy adult dogs.

Socialisation
©WALTHAM 2012

Figure 3: Socialisation is very important for puppies so that they grow into confident well-balanced dogs. All puppies are gradually accustomed to being handled and are introduced to the sights and sounds of WALTHAM

WALTHAM has a specially-designed sensory garden that the dogs visit regularly, to stimulate all their senses (Figure 4). One area gives them a chance to explore different heights, sounds, scents and floor textures. Another area contains a water feature to allow play with a random sequence of water jets.

Sensory garden
©WALTHAM 2012

Figure 4: The specially-designed sensory garden for dogs at WALTHAM

Solution (Caring Science)

Caring Science is at the forefront of everything WALTHAM does

Caring Science is the ethos that underpins all we do at WALTHAM. We believe that it is possible to obtain cutting edge science in a way that does not harm our pets. In fact, the Mars Petcare vision “create a better world for pets” starts with the pets at WALTHAM.  Caring Science is important to us, because we care strongly for our pets, and believe that they should be relaxed, happy, willing partners in our research. We also believe that research developed together with our contented pets is more likely to be relevant to pets in the home environment.

The Caring Science approach can present WALTHAM scientists with challenges, but the reward is great. WALTHAM scientists often come up with innovative solutions that offer massive benefits because they produce relevant results which can be transferred to pets everywhere.

WALTHAM scientists continually develop alternatives that challenge more traditional scientific procedures. At WALTHAM, non-invasive urine collection systems were specially developed for dogs as an alternative to more traditional methodologies of urine collection that involve inserting a needle into the bladder. Similarly, when WALTHAM scientists were studying the effects of nutrition on skin health, they devised a technique to do this non-invasively utilising a probe that lay on the skin surface. When studies of flatulence were started, WALTHAM first developed a non-invasive system for capturing the gas, and when saliva was needed to develop solutions for better oral health, the dogs were taught to chew on cotton swabs to collect saliva samples. Often our science starts in the WALTHAM laboratory, using cultured cells, or at the desk, working with computer models of biological systems. This means that WALTHAM often finds ways around using pets for some of the work.

When a pet at WALTHAM participates in a study, time is taken beforehand to train them to work in partnership with the researchers (Figure 5). This not only minimises stress, but makes for better science too. For example, a pet-friendly measure of skin health was developed (trans-epidermal water loss) which involved parting the hair on the dog’s back and placing a probe against the skin. However, it soon became apparent that the happy wagging tails of the dogs at WALTHAM could influence the measurements. In order to produce quality data with low variability, each dog was trained to stand still for up to 10 measurements, each taking 45 seconds. This was achieved through positive reward- and clicker-based training over a number of weeks before the sampling period. This is just one example. All procedures, from urinating into specific trays to giving blood samples, benefit from a period of habituation and training. Taking the time to do this is one of the keys to WALTHAM success.

Training
©WALTHAM 2012

Figure 5: When a pet at WALTHAM participates in a study, time is taken beforehand to train them to work in partnership

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