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Renzo made friends with one of the students who had been sprayed with the pheromone
Renzo made friends with one of the students who had been sprayed with the pheromone

A new course, Making Animal Studies, began at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) in January.

Co-organised by Andrea Roe (artist and lecturer, ECA) and Andrew Gardiner (senior lecturer, Royal [Dick] School of Veterinary Studies), the course introduces students to the rapidly expanding field of Animal Studies, where insights from the arts, sciences and social sciences inform contemporary thinking about animals.

The inter-disciplinary course has attracted students from across the University of Edinburgh. A diverse programme of site visits will take participants to Edinburgh Zoo and the National Museums of Scotland Collection Centre amongst other places. Visiting experts include wildlife artist Darren Woodhead, anthropologist Dr Rebecca Marsland and Professor of Environment and Philosophy, Emily Brady.

The first afternoon included an interactive introduction to the world of animal communication through pheromones – species-specific chemical messengers. Students were invited to interact with dogs Elvis and Renzo to determine who the dogs liked most. Before meeting the dogs, one group of students were sprayed with a synthetic, commercially-available pheromone which makes dogs feel happy and secure. This product is widely used by owners to reassure dogs experiencing anxiety and stress, such as that produced by fireworks. The other group of students received a placebo spray. Students did not know what spray they received and canine pheromones are undetectable to the human nose.

What was the result? After coming into a strange room with their owners, when they may have been feeling just a little bit anxious, both dogs veered towards students who had been given pheromones, and Renzo fell in love with a pheromone-sprayed student! The fun trial raised as many questions as it answered and hopefully gave the MAS students some food for thought at the start of their course.