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Sharon To
Dr. Lynda Haas
WR 39C
24 August 2015
Silent Victims: The Cognitive and Emotional Effect of Abuse on our Canine Companions
As an adult, I clearly remember the feeling of being mauled by a giant, black and white, bi-eyed
Siberian Husky at the age of six and never again being able to sit still in the presence of a dog. From that
day on, I had always considered dogs as monstrous beings whose only purpose was to strike fear in
children, and that, as creatures, humans and dogs couldnt be more different. It wasnt until my family
decided to get our family dog, Taro, that I overcame my fear of dogs with a slow-and-steady approach
and constant exposure. The more I learned about his habits and gestures, what he did when he was
happy or scared, the more comfortable I became around him. My experience with Taro reminded me of a
friend of mine who always hid her dog away when visitors were present. She warned her guests that Jojo
would bark, growl, or bite if anyone came near him, explaining that he was weary of strangers because he
was a shelter dog who had been abused in his past home. Jojo, having had a traumatizing experience
with humans in the past, learned to fear them just as I had learned to fear dogs because of my encounter.
This made me wonder if perhaps dogs have a thought process similar to humans, and also called to mind
the question of emotions. Do dogs share similar feelings with humans? The parallel I was able to draw
between myself and my friends dog caused me to think that perhaps humans and dogs arent so different
after all, and if one bad experience with a dog could be so traumatizing to me, what does constant abuse
do to our innocent canine companions?
Historical Background
The study of canine science is fairly new, as evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare infers, this is
in part due to the fact that until the mid- to late- 1900s, scientists believed domesticated animals were
artificial products of human breeding (The Genius of Dogs 14). Studies throughout the past several
decades have been conducted to discover what dogs are feeling or thinking, if they are at all, and how
such emotions and thoughts affect or are affected by the human-animal relationship we have developed

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with them. Many of these studies have transformed the way humans view dogs and their mental
capacities and redefined the human-animal relationship, providing further insight into canine intelligence
and learning and its effect on our consideration of dogs as conscious intelligent creatures.
In 1898, Edward Thorndike, a comparative psychologist and pioneer investigator in human and
animal learning, conducted one of the first formal studies of canine intelligence. By placing dogs into
puzzle-boxes and re-placing them after their successful escape, Thorndike observed how dogs figured
out how to escape the box and whether or not they could remember how it was done when the
experiment was repeated. With each succeeding session, the dogs were able to escape more quickly,
leading to the conclusion that dogs learned through a method of operant conditioning known as trial-anderror learning (Chance 437-439). Another facet of dogs cognitive capabilities involves their methods of
In the early 2000s, researchers Brian Hare and Adam Miklosi, chair of the Ethology department at
Eotvos Lorand University and a leading expert on dog cognition and behavior, collaborated in a study that
revealed that dogs are able to interpret human gestures, signifying the possession of communicative
skills (The Genius of Dogs 53). Through various experiments, dogs were directed to specific areas with a
simple pointing gesture from the experimenter. Despite enacting different situations, such as the
accompaniment of other forms of visual gesturing (eye movement, gazing, etc.) and different styles of
pointing (proximal, cross, asymmetric, etc.), dogs responded accordingly, following the pointing gesture
regardless of where the experimenter stood, or how he/she pointed to the desired location. This ability to
follow directions implies an understanding among dogs of human gestures and body language. Their
enhanced sociocognitive abilities, which developed over a long history of socialization with humans,
provide them with communicative skills that support higher learning capabilities (Miklosi 81-93). Results
from Miklosi and Hares experiments contributed to a new perception of dogs and an incipient
appreciation for their degree of consciousness and intelligence.
Aside from merely understanding the body language of other species, dogs also communicate
through their own forms of body language, though gestures often go unnoticed by humans. Emotions that
dogs may feel, such as anger or fear along with other possible emotions for which there are no human
parallels, are often conveyed through varying mannerisms. In 1999, zoologists and animal behaviorists

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Zana Bahlig-Pieren and Dennis Turner investigated the
human anthropomorphic interpretations of animal
behavior. Dog owners and non-owners were shown clips
of dog behavior and were asked to associate their
expressions with emotions. The owners descriptions
were more anthropomorphic than the non-owners
because their judgment was affected by their
relationship with dogs and their tendency to project their
own feelings onto dogs, disregarding the dogs body
language, which should have been a clearer indication of
how they were actually feeling (Bahlig-Pieren & Turner
205-210). Figure 1 is an infographic that displays the
body language of three typical emotions dogs convey
through their body language as well as additional

Fig.1. Dog body language and behavior infographic.

Sharon To.

information on each emotion. Through these studies, dogs have proven their ability to communicate
through and understand body language.
Based on this research that proves dogs skills when it comes to communicating, it stands to
reason that perhaps dogs are capable of different kinds of reasoning that do not parallel that of human
beings. One such way could be in their reliance on and heavy usage of imprinting, forming attachments
and developing concepts of their own identity during early childhood, a practice humans do not perform.
The bond they are able to share with humans can be understood on a scientific and hormonal level, and
also leads to insight on their emotional and cognitive facilities. To test the degree of attachment dogs feel
with humans as compared to their attachment with their own species on a hormonal level, scientists
David Tuber (Ohio State University, Mansfield), Suzanne Sanders (Ohio State University, Columbus),
Michael Hennessy (Wright State University), and Julia Miller (Ohio State University, Mansfield) conducted
an experiment with eight dogs raised as littermate pairs with full socialization with humans from eight
weeks to seven years of age. They observed the level of stress hormone cortisol in their blood of dogs in
a new environment when their littermate pair was taken away, but their human caretaker was present and

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compared those levels to situations when their littermate was present, but their caretaker was not.
Though dogs showed agitation and their levels of stress hormone went up by over 50 percent in the first
case, their stress was alleviated and their cortisol levels returned to normal in the second (Tuber et al.
105). These results illustrate the attachment that dogs form between themselves and humans; they are
sentient beings who draw connections and behave according to those connections, even if it is in a way
humans have yet to fully understand.
Due to the last few decades of research in the areas of canine cognition and communication, it is
now understood that dogs are cognitive and emotional, even though they express it in different ways.
According to Bradshaw, emotions are survival mechanisms and exist to indicate to us where we are in
relation to where we ought to be (153). By that logic, dogs are also capable of emotions, having needed
them to survive. However, their needs for survival differed from our own, meaning evolution is what
created the difference between human emotion and canine emotion. Similarly, canine intelligence, and all
animal intelligence for that matter, does not parallel human intelligence - not necessarily because they are
inferior, but because their evolutionary needs were and continue to be different from our own.
With a better understanding of dogs and their emotional and mental capacity comes a
responsibility and obligation to treat these creatures accordingly. Our relationship with dogs has changed
over the decades with the research that has been done to shed light on their capabilities, and it may
continue to evolve as we discover more about them. As we learn more about the way dogs think and feel,
and recognize their complex cognitive abilities and emotional capacity, we must consider the effects our
actions toward them and treatment of them have on different aspects of their lives and their general wellbeing.
Implications of Canine Abuse
Presently in the United States, there are a total of 19,448 cases of animal abuse, 11,894 of which
list dogs as the victims according to, an online database that documents incidents of
animal cruelty. Animal cruelty is broken down into two categories: active and passive. Passive acts are
typically cases of neglect in the form of starvation, dehydration, inadequate sheltering in extreme weather
conditions, and so on. Active cruelty, otherwise known as non-accidental injury, is deliberate and
intentional harm to an animal and often involves beating, burning, fighting, and the like (

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The ramifications of these acts of abuse take a toll on not just the animals physical well being but
its psychological state as well. Due to their cognitive and emotional capacities, dogs learn to fear signs of
approaching cruelty with every succeeding act of abuse, affecting their behavior and physical agitations.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science conducted by scientists Franklin
McMillan (American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine), Deborah Duffy (Center for the Interaction of
Animals and Society), Stephen Zawistowski (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals), and James Serpell (School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania) in 2014
analyzes the behavior of dogs with a certain or near certain history of being abused in an attempt to
determine characteristics that could be potential risk factors for
abuse (92). Comparisons of behavioral responses of abused and
non-abused dogs show that abused dogs exhibit more
aggression and fear directed toward unfamiliar humans and
dogs...more hyperactivity, and more persistent barking on top of
more fearful responses to petting or reprimand (102). Other
similar studies also found that animals suspected to be victims of
abuse by veterinarians showed signs of depression,
psychological damage, meekness, and excessive fear of
strangers (Munro & Thrusfield, 2001). The tendencies that
abused dogs exhibit indicate that they learn to think of humans
as threats and, therefore, sources of fear, corresponding with
Thorndikes experiment, which found that dogs are capable of
operant conditioning; in this case, they are associating humans
with danger. These findings are made more intriguing when we
consider the strength of the human-canine relationship dogs are
able to form with their caretakers that was demonstrated by the
kennel experiment conducted by Tuber et al.
One of the most pressing issues at hand in terms of
companion animal abuse lies in the lack of concern for animal

Fig. 2. Forms of canine abuse. Sharon To.

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abuse as a subject of research. Frank Ascione, professor of psychology at Utah State University, calls
attention to the practically nonexistent criteria for determining the occurrence of abuse and neglect in
animals, which also manifests itself in the absence of a clear definition of animal abuse and animal
cruelty. This shortcoming makes it difficult to assess the true extent of animal abuse in the greater
community with an estimated 1 million animals falling victim to it every year. Perhaps the issue of animal
abuse is less prioritized because humans, in general, operate from the perspective of speciesism, a
term coined by psychologist and philosopher Richard Ryder to describe the prejudice against other
species (What is speciesism? 0:10). Companion animals like dogs are most often the victims of human
aggression as they are frequently viewed as property and subject to human acts of superiority. Much of
the abuse occurs due to failure on the humans part to acknowledge dogs as sentient beings who are
capable of feeling emotions and pain similar to humans (Phillips & Lockwood 2). Figure 2 is an
infographic intended to depict the various forms of abuse canine victims typically suffer. With the growing
interest in animal abuse research since the late 1990s, researchers have been able to develop their
knowledge on the existence and prevalence of animal abuse, and even draw a connection between
abuse of humans and animals (Tiplady 14). Senior research scholar at the Yale University School of
Forestry and Environmental Studies Stephen Kellert and director of forensic psychiatry at Saint Louis
University School of Medicine Alan Felthous interviewed over 150 criminals, 25% of which committed
five or more acts of animal cruelty (Tiplady 19). Kellert and Felthous found nine animal cruelty
motivations that include a desire to control an animal, express aggression through an animal, enhance
ones own aggressiveness, retaliate against another person, and displace hostility from a person to an
animal. These findings support other studies that have found strong ties between companion animal
abuse and domestic violence, as animal abuse has been indicated to be a manipulation mechanism to
establish and maintain control over victims (Animal Legal Defense Fund).
According to the American Humane Association, 71% of pet-owning women subjected to
domestic violence reported that their batterer injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for
revenge or to psychologically control victims. An article in the Journal of Community Health titled Risk
factors for intimate partner violence and associated injury among urban women cites pet abuse as one of
the four predictors of domestic partner violence. Animal abuse and comparative criminology professor

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Piers Beirne presents numerous studies that reveal a link between animal abuse and a variety of forms of
domestic violence like partner abuse, child physical abuse, child sexual abuse, and sibling abuse (124).
Cathy Widom, professor of psychology at John Jay College, found that a history of child abuse and
neglect increased chances of delinquency, crime, and violence in adulthood. Varying factors such as
corporal punishment, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and domestic violence have been attributed to the
higher likelihood of animal abuse in children and adolescents. In households in which domestic violence
occurs, children are more likely to be exposed to the abuse of animals, whether an adult commits the act
or the children themselves as an expression of the pain they feel from their own victimization.
The problem with canine abuse is clear: it is damaging in a multitude of ways to both dogs and
humans. Daily interactions between humans and their household pets immensely affect the well-being of
said animal, and whether by neglect or intended action, abuse can have long-term consequences on a
dogs physical lifestyle as well as its psychological and behavioral characteristics. Canine victims of
domestic abuse are often silent victims, not because they dont speak up, but because they do so in ways
we cant understand. As proven through studies like those conducted by Bahlig-Pieren & Turner, dogs are
capable of feeling emotions and pain, but humans often misunderstand their forms of communication, like
their use of body language. These acts of cruelty dont just hurt the dogs either; there are countless
studies that make the relationship between canine abuse and interhuman violence undeniable. Without
intervention, this cruel cycle of violence will continue unhindered.
Efforts to Combat the Issue
The problem at hand is one that requires attention and action on all fronts, both in the greater
community and closer to home, and this is a sentiment that is growing in recognition. According to the
National District Attorneys Association, animal abuse laws in the United States are becoming more
conscious of the need to protect animals from harm. As of 2014, all 50 states have established felony
laws for severe cruelty to animals, prohibited neglect of animals, and prohibited dog fighting. For
example, Californias Penal Code Section 597, which was established in 1905 and periodically amended,
is titled Cruelty to Animals and addresses animal abuse and neglect cases. This section discusses
various factors of animal abuse such as physical abuse (maiming, mutilating, torturing, etc.) and neglect
(i.e. leaving an animal in an unattended vehicle under endangering conditions). In 2006, states began

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including pets in domestic violence protective orders (Phillips & Lockwood 13). Inclusion of family pets
into protective orders removes a significant barrier that causes many victims of intimate partner violence
to avoid leaving their abuser (Arkow & Coppola 6).
Another issue that often arises with cases of domestic violence includes a situation in which a
victim leaves the abusive household to find a domestic violence shelter, but said shelter cannot house
animals; in fact, only 3% of domestic violence shelters nationwide currently allow pets (Markarian).
Typically in these situations, victims choose to abandon their pets, leaving them to fend for themselves. In
response, Safe Haven programs such as the Animal Safety Net, Red Rover, and Ahimsa House have
been initiated nationwide. These programs enlist animal shelters, veterinarians, rescue groups, and
similar organizations to aid in providing foster care for animal victims. They also seek to rehabilitate
abused animals, trying to fix the psychological damage canine victims acquire such as depression and
anxiety as proven by McMillan et al.
While the current laws set in place have shown great strides in the acknowledgement of animal
abuse issues, and Safe Haven programs provide a significant amount of help to abuse victims, these
policies and programs have their shortcomings. First, all current domestic animal abuse laws are
restricted to state-level policy. Second, Safe Haven programs are not available in every state and mainly
depend upon volunteer help and donations. To counter this problem U.S. Representatives Katherine
Clark and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen introduced the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act in March 2015. This
act would amend the Violence Against Women Act to extend federal protections to companion animals,
establishing a national policy on the issue of pet abuse and introducing a federal grant program to help
victims safely house their pets. According to the Humane Society of the United States, 25% of domestic
violence survivors often return to abusive partners out of concern for their pet because domestic violence
shelters rarely offer protection for pets accompanying victimized family members. The grant program the
act seeks to initiate would provide resource-strapped shelters with more funding to expand their services
to pets as well as humans. As this is a recently proposed bill that has yet to be enacted into law, it is
unclear the effects the law will have on both human and animal victims of domestic violence.
A few drawbacks that come with these solutions include the lack of clarity of the laws and the
question of enforcement. In terms of clarity, the definition of animal and other terms like abuse and

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neglect vary across states; these ambiguities allow the laws to become riddled with exemptions, leaving
the determination of which cases violate these laws up to interpretation. For instance, Texas Penal Code
42.09 exempts harming animals belonging to another from their statute when the defendant had
permission from the animals owner to harm or kill it as long as those actions do not constitute torture,
torture being an undefined term, allowing prosecutors and judges to determine what constitutes torture on
a case-by-case basis. Additionally, these laws can, of course, only be enforced when they are
acknowledged and reported. Veterinarians and concerned community members may do their part in
reporting noticed signs of abuse; however, there are a few problems with this method. For instance, not
everyone knows what symptoms or signs could signify abuse, and if they do notice, some civilians may
not know who to call or what to do with that information. There are also cases that simply remain out of
the public eye such as situations that occur strictly in the home. Some states employ agencies that
specifically investigate complaints of animal cruelty; however, several others lack local resources to
properly investigate or are perceived to be unresponsive or ineffective (Lockwood 25). Because of these
deficiencies, many animal cruelty cases continue to be overlooked. Furthermore, these solutions only
come into play after the crime has already been committed and can only be addressed if it is reported;
according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 70% of domestic violence cases go
unreported. The amount of victims that continue to suffer from domestic violence immensely outnumbers
those that are helped simply because these acts are kept private, leaving both human and animal victims
under the continual subjugation of their abuser. A more effective proposal to help with this alarming crisis
should address the problem before it starts.
One method that would provide significant help in addressing and preventing domestic canine
abuse is proper education. While laws against canine violence would aid in the punishment of those who
commit these indiscretions, they arent as effective with regards to prevention as the spreading of
knowledge would be. Just as citizens need a license to operate a car, such a standard should also be
expected of those who wish to own a dog. For example, Craig Mixon, an educational psychologist and
canine behavior researcher, suggests requiring dog owner education classes as a prerequisite to
licensing. Classes should teach topics such as proper dog upbringing, recognition and treatment of
illnesses, proper nutrition, hygiene and maintenance, local laws pertaining to keeping a canine, and

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factors, signs, and solutions for canine abuse witnessed at home or in public. Students should also learn
how to interpret and understand dog body language, so that their gestures will less likely be
misunderstood or overlooked, which is a common occurrence according to Bahlig-Pieren & Turners
research. With such a structure in place, potential dog owners will know exactly what obligations come
with accepting the responsibility of dog ownership. The classes can also provide the public with tools and
services to help stop canine abuse by informing them of what constitutes abuse, how to recognize it, and
what to do if they come across it. The initiation of a licensing system with pre-licensing classes serves to
screen for potentially problematic owners, which may reduce cases of canine abuse significantly.
The implementation of this new licensing system does come with its own flaws, however. For
example, these classes would need to be accessible to all residents of the United States, so it would
stand to reason that funding for these classes be provided by the government. Government at all levels
municipal, state, and federal should provide some measure of funding as each level has its own policies
in relation to animal rearing. If citizens are to be properly informed of the municipal codes and state and
federal laws and regulations that come with caring for a dog, then the government should do its part in
providing them with the means to do so. The problem with this method, though, is that currently
government-run animal welfare facilities already lack the necessary funding to provide adequate
resources; implementing a licensing system would require even more financing. To combat the lack of
funding, national organizations and animal welfare foundations could donate capital or provide volunteers
to help make these classes become reality. Those who wish to obtain a dog owning license should also
pay a fee to take the pre-licensing classes (similar to Drivers Education in pursuit of a drivers license)
that can help support the sustenance of the licensing system. The ability and willingness of potential
owners to pay a fee to obtain a license serves as proof of commitment financially and altruistically to
owning a dog.
Because this system adds restrictions to getting a pet, it is to be expected that perhaps there will
be less people willing to own dogs. This development will be beneficial in the long run because having
less dog owners will mean having less people abandon their dogs and leave them in shelters. As for
those who do obtain licenses, they will not only have proven their dedication to quality dog upbringing but
also will be properly educated on spaying and neutering procedures, which will help control the canine

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population and aid in preventing overpopulation. However, this idea doesnt protect dogs that are
currently housed in shelters and at risk for euthanasia. In fact, if there are less dog owners, more dogs
might have to be euthanized because of the inadequate space in shelters and the reduction of people to
adopt these dogs. The problem involving the euthanasia of dogs in shelters is one that cannot easily be
remedied, and perhaps is in need of a solution that specifically addresses this issue.
In addition to classes meant to properly educate interested dog owners, the general public must
also be informed on matters concerning canine abuse, and the best way to do so is through social media.
As I have learned through the social media campaign project, the internet is one of our best and most
effective tools for spreading awareness because of its broad scope. As media scholar Clay Shirky says in
his TEDtalk How social media can make history, the size of the actually the square of the
number of participants, and that is all thanks to the internet (11:33). The world has never been as
interconnected as it is now because of the various social media platforms that allow users to read content
from other users all over the world in a matter of seconds. Taking advantage of this convenient method of
information dissemination, we can bring a greater awareness to the problems of canine abuse.
Organizations like the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), the Humane Society of the United
States (HSUS), and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) as well as
countless local organizations have already taken to the internet gather supporters. For example, ALDFs
Dogs in Hot Cars campaign is utilizing Facebook, Twitter, and their own website to spread awareness of
the issue. In April, Sojourner Family Peace Center, the Milwaukee police force, Wisconsin Humane
Society, Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission, Serve Marketing, and the Milwaukee
County District Attorneys Office collaborated to launch the Spot Abuse program to create awareness
about domestic violence and animal abuse. The program encourages residents to report animal abuse by
advertising through television, billboards, radio, and social media. Provocative images are displayed on
their website, their Facebook page, and their Twitter page in order to expose the link
between human and animal abuse. Even middle school students from Oak Valley Middle School in
Michigan initiated their own campaign in April 2015 known as the No Chain No Pain campaign, in which
they sought to change county ordinance laws to prevent the confinement of dogs by chains for more than
three hours a day. By partnering with C.H.A.I.N.E.D Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to freeing

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tethered dogs, and organizating an online petition at, these students were able to gain over
1,000 supporters globally, spreading awareness of the effects of dog chaining, a form of dog abuse, and
taking one step closer to getting an ordinance passed. Many of the laws and policies that were passed in
favor of canine protection thus far were made possible because of public pressure for more effective
animal rights laws. Utilizing social media can further engage a larger audience to partake in the fight
against canine abuse.
Canine violence is a complex issue, one that clearly is not easily solved. However, with effort and
cooperation from both the general public and political authority, we can help take steps towards
combatting this problem.

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Works Cited
"Animal Cruelty." Pet-Abuse.Com. Pet-Abuse.Com, n.d. Web. 4 Aug. 2015.
Arkow, Phil, and Tracy Coppola. "Expanding Protective Orders to Include Companion Animals." Web log
post. American Humane Association, n.d. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.
Ascione, Frank R. "Animal Abuse and Youth Violence." Juvenile Justice Bulletin (2001): n. pag.National
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Bahlig-Pieren, Zana, and Dennis C. Turner. "Anthropomorphic Interpretations and Ethological
Descriptions of Dog and Cat Behavior by Lay People." Anthrozoos 12 (1999): 205-10. Research
Gate. Web. 15 July 2015.
Beirne, Piers. "For A Nonspeciesist Criminology: Animal Abuse as an Object of Study." Criminology37.1
(1999): 117-48. Wiley Online Library. Web. 5 Aug. 2015.
Bradshaw, John. Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to
Your Pet. New York: Basic, 2011. Print.
"California "Animal Abuse & Cruelty" Laws." Shouse California Law Group. Shouse Law Group, A.P.C.,
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Chance, Paul. "Thorndike's Puzzle Boxes and the Origins of the Experimental Analysis of
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Hare, Brian, and Vanessa Woods. The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter than You Think. New
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Dog." Behavioural Processes 33.1-2 (1994): 3-14. Science Direct. Web. 12 July 2015.
Markarian, Michael. "PAWS Act Would Protect Pets in Abusive Homes." Animals & Politics. Humane
Society Legislative Fund, 6 Mar. 2015. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.
McMillan, Franklin D., Deborah L. Duffy, Stephen L. Zawistowski, and James A. Serpell. "Behavioral and
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Science 18.1 (2014): 92-111. Research Gate. Web. 4 Aug. 2015.

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Miklosi, Adam, and Krisztina Soproni. "A Comparative Analysis of Animals' Understanding of the Human
Pointing Gesture." Animal Cognition 9.2 (2006): 81-93. Springer Link. Web. 10 July 2015.
Mixon, Craig. "Dog Owner Education and Screening Classes as a Prerequisite to Licensing." New Animal
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Dogs and Cats." Journal of Small Animal Practice 42 (2001): 279-90. Wiley Online Library. Web.
4 Aug. 2015.
Sterricker, Heidi. "Spot Abuse Campaign Launches." Wisconsin Humane Society, 30 Apr.
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Tuber, David, Suzanne Sanders, Michael Hennessy, and Julia MIller. "Behavioral and Glucocorticoid
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