Dr Nicola Rooney
Senior Lecturer in Wildlife and ConservationBristol Veterinary School
My research focuses on the behaviour and wellbeing of companion animals, and their interactions with humans. I am particularly interested in play behaviour as shown below, and in developing ways of measuring, prioritising and improving the welfare of companion species.
Much of my work has focussed on domestic dogs, and I have an international reputation in the field of working dog performance and welfare having spoken at many international meetings, and contributed to numerous policy documents and guidelines.
I have also studied pet rabbits and a range of species (wild and domestic) and their interactions with people.
For the past fourteen years I have headed a team conducting research on working dogs, working collaboratively with many agencies worldwide. My research aims to improve both dog team performance and also individual dog welfare. Research topics included:
- Examining working dog selection criteria and breed differences in ability.
- Investigating the effects of rearing environments on search dog ability.
- Exploring the effects of different types of training method upon the behaviour and welfare of domestic dogs.
- Developing methods for measuring working ability.
- Determining optimal handler selection.
- Developing training resources for military handlers to recognise and quantify dog behavior.
- Assessing and examining ways of improving the welfare of kenneled dogs.
Several of the findings of this research have been adopted by working dog agencies in the UK and overseas to derive policy aimed at improving performance and welfare of their dogs. I am currently part of a team researching aspects of racing greyhound welfare, working with the industry in order to improve welfare.
Hypoglycaemia Alert Dogs
Photo by Damien McFadden
Courtesy of Medical Detection dogs
More recently I have undertaken a new and exciting avenue of research, examining medical detection dogs including hypoglycaemia alert dogs and exploring their value to people living with Type I diabetes. I completed the first scientific study to examine dogs trained for this potentially life-saving role. All owners reported positive effects including reduced paramedic call outs, decreased unconscious episodes and improved independence. Owner-recorded data showed that dogs alerted their owners, with significant, though variable, accuracy at times of low and high blood sugar. Dogs also alerted consistently more often when their owner’s blood sugars were reported to be outside, than within, target range. This study points to the potential value of alert dogs, for increasing glycaemic control, client independence and consequent quality of life and even reducing the costs of long-term health care, and is an exciting first step in this new research area.
Companion animal welfare
I also work as a consultant to the RSPCA and has helped produce Codes of Practice for the care of both dogs and cats, the RSPCA Performing Animals Guidelines, and coordinated and co-authored the influential Independent Report entitled “Pedigree dog breeding in the UK: a major welfare concern?”.
I am concerned by effects of pedigree dog breeding and hence my research interests include:
- The effects of exaggerated anatomical features upon the behavior and welfare of breeds of domestic dog.
- Dog-dog and dog-human signaling, specifically play signaling and inter-breed differences.
Along with a team at Bristol, I have recently completed two large scale studies
- Assessing the state rabbit welfare in the UK and prioritising welfare issues.
- Investigating the spatial needs of socially housed pet rabbits.
The finding of these studies form the basis of The UK Strategy for Rabbit Welfare
Further information can be found about Nicola Rooney here.
- E-pub ahead of print
Frontiers in Veterinary Science
Does benchmarking of rating scales improve ratings of search performance given by specialist search dog handlers?
Frontiers in Veterinary Science
- Accepted/In press