Five minutes with animal welfare expert Dr John Bradshaw


17 October 2018
The animal welfare expert and author tells us a bit about his life, work, and future plans.
Q) A lot of your research in recent years has focused on canine separation disorders, the welfare of kennelled dogs, and the psychology of dog-handler interactions. What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

A) “The research done by me, Dr Rachel Casey, and Dr Emily Blackwell on separation disorders is probably the piece of work that has done the most good for dogs. Twenty years ago, it was thought that separation anxiety was a mental illness in a small minority of dogs, but we showed it is normal behaviour that stems from a dog’s attachment to his or her owner. We validated the techniques that owners can use to train their dog to cope with being left alone, and these are still used on the RSPCA’s website today.”

Q) You’re passionate about making animal welfare science accessible to pet owners. What is the key to achieving this?

A) “Definitely the media. I now mainly give talks to the public, rather than academics, and when I ask them if they know about dog welfare, all hands go up. But on the 64,000 dollar question of who’s read Defra’s code of practice for the welfare of dogs, hands go down again. Owners mainly get their information about caring for their dogs from friends, publications like Your Dog, television, and radio. For the past 10 years, I have been trying to subtly get the message across through all media channels, from ‘The National Enquirer’ in the US, to ‘The Sun’ and BBC4 in the UK. Although I have 3,500 followers on Twitter, I’m not sure social media has as much effect as TV and radio.”

Q) How can a better understanding of animal welfare science improve the way ordinary owners care for their pets?

A) “The more owners understand about what their dog wants, the more they will be able to look after him/her better. There are several important issues surrounding animal welfare: understanding a dog’s mind — knowing what a dog really thinks rather than regarding him/her as a furry human; the issue of breeding and exposing cruel puppy farms; and ensuring happier lives for brachycephalic breeds. I hope I can use my profile to promote responsible dog ownership.”

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Q) What projects are you currently working on?

A) “My next project is a children’s book about dog behaviour, a fictionalised version of ‘In Defence of Dogs’. Aimed at four- to nine-year-olds, it’s been written and is currently being illustrated. I am hoping that it will strike a chord with the next generation of dog owners.”

Q) Go on, be honest… cats or dogs?

A) “If you want a companion, get a dog; if you want to be fascinated by an animal, get a cat.”

Scientist, writer, and TV personality Dr John Bradshaw (pictured above) was recently presented with the RSPCA’s prestigious Animal Welfare Science Award at a glittering ceremony in London, hosted by journalist and newscaster Alastair Stewart. Dr Bradshaw has dedicated his career to studying the behaviour of cats and dogs, and the interactions between humans and animals. He has contributed to Your Dog Magazine, and is the author of best-selling books such as ‘In Defence of Dogs’ and ‘The Animals Among Us: The New Science of Anthrozoology’. He has also appeared on BBC Horizon’s ‘The Secret Life of the Cat’ and ‘Cat Watch’.

The RSPCA’s chief scientific officer, Dr Julia Wrathall, said: “This honour is truly well-deserved by John. His work has been invaluable to the RSPCA. He is very inspirational.”