Browse/search for people

Dr Nicola Rooney

Dr Nicola Rooney

Dr Nicola Rooney
B.Sc.(Leic.), Ph.D.(Soton.)


Area of research

Animal Welfare and Behaviour

Pearson Building,
Langford House, Langford BS40 5DU
(See a map)

+44 (0) 117 928 9469


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. 

Dog at play 

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. In November 2013, I will give the keynote address at the inaugural Conference of the Australian Working Dog Alliance.

I have also studied pet rabbits and a range of species (wild and domestic) and their interactions with people.


Working Dogs

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. 


Military dog reward via play

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

Hypoglycaemia alert dogs

Medical detection dogs






Photo by Damien McFadden

Courtesy of Medical Detection dogs 


Recently I have undertaken a new and exciting avenue of research, examining hypoglycaemia alert dogs and their value to people living with Type I diabetes. This was 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 incr easing 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.

For further information about Medical Detection dogs please click the link, and to find out about the study published please go here.

Express: How a dog can save your life









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.


Pet rabbits 


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.

We hope the finding of these studies will soon be adopted into guidelines by welfare organisations and pet industries in order to improve the welfare of this currently understudied species, and to this end presented the work at the Pet IndustryForum & Awards in October 2013. 

Further information can be found about Nicola Rooney here.



photo of Nicola Rooney

Nicola graduated from Leicester University (Hons, 1st class), before completing a PGCE. After studying mink anatomy and diet, (WildCRU, Oxford University), she moved to Southampton University to complete a PhD, entitled “Play Behaviour of the Domestic Dog, and its Effects upon the Dog-Human Relationship”.She has continued to work in the field of human-animal interactions, running many research projects on working dogs: examining selection criteria, determining effects of rearing environment, measuring working ability, and assessing and improving the welfare of specialist search dogs. She’s supervised PhD, MSc and BSc projects, on various aspects of dog welfare, and has conducted research trips to Indonesia, studying and supervising research on rainforest-dwelling primates, and their interactions with humans.

Since 2003, Nicola has worked within the Animal Welfare and Behaviour Group (University of Bristol), and has pursued her interest in wildlife tourism, leading tours to Africa several times per year. She also works as an independent consultant to the RSPCA. She’s helped produce the RSPCA Codes of Practice for the care of both dogs and cats, the RSPCA Performing Animals Guidelines, has coordinated and co-authored an Independent Report entitled “Pedigree dog breeding in the UK: a major welfare concern?” and advises on racing greyhound welfare.

Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system

Edit this profile If you are Dr Nicola Rooney, you can edit this page. Login required.

PDF versionDownload PDF