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Do Dogs Show Cultural Differences?

Pit Bull Cultural Differences

I made it to LAX without delays. Long flights these days are a pain except if you fly with a company minded for top service. Guinea pig camps are on a strict budget because we want to keep them the cheapest possible to allow many to participate. “Knowledge to everyone everywhere” commits and so I didn’t fly with one of my favorite but more expensive air carriers. Thai, Emirates, JAL, Singapore Airlines, KLM and Air France get my top grades—now you know it.

Flying from the East to the West still gives me a bit of a cultural shock even though now I’m expecting it. We can’t say that we have “cultural differences” in Europe. We have different cultural details, but that’s all. Flying to the USA from Europe is slightly different. Still the same culture, but the rules are different. Americans still laugh at the same jokes, which is good—the cultural difference is not that large—but I always need a couple of days to adjust. Political correctness in the US is more complicated than in Europe, and I don’t want to get into too much trouble.

Flying to the USA from southeast Asia, particularly if you live there, gives you the complete experience, that is the full cultural shock. It also gives you a jet lag of enormous proportions: I’m writing this at four in the morning.

Do animals have cultural differences? Do dogs behave differently according to their doggy culture?

Yes, they do. Normal behavior is only normal under specific conditions. Normal behavior is the behavior displayed by the majority of the population in a precise area in a particular period. We may not like it, but if most do it, then it is normal. To behave rationally is not normal among humans since most people behave irrationally. Oh, oh, there we go—I hope this one is not too politically incorrect for the USA.

Yes, dogs show cultural differences. Their facial expressions and body languages show slightly different nuances from region to region. Even barking and howling can be distinctive. Davis Mech discovered that when he flew to the Abruzzi to assist Luigi Boitani and Erik Zimen with their wolf research. The Italian wolves howled with an accent (or, then, the Americans did).

Natural selection decides the cultural differences our dogs show from one area to the other. We breed those we like best, and we like them differently from place to place. Remember, selection acts upon the phenotype (the way a dog looks and behaves), but the traits pass to the next generation thru the genes (genotypes) involved in the favored phenotypes. Don’t forget as well that our human choices as to preferred animals are also natural selection.

In the end, we have the dogs we deserve, so to say. We have selected those we wanted for breeding—or then, we haven’t, which is the same.

I’m going to sleep again, but before that allow me to share a trick with you that I’ve learned in Southeast Asia. When you’re in doubt whether someone is cracking a joke or attempting to offend you, keep smiling—it’s the safest! Now, you know why I smile so much these days.

Featured image: Dog behavior shows cultural differences from one area to the other. For example, the controversial Pit Bull shows distinct behavioral characteristics depending on breed line and training (photo from https://vitaminsforpitbulls.com/free-pit-bull-wallpaper-downloads/).

Learn more in our course Ethology. Ethology studies the behavior of animals in their natural environment. It is fundamental knowledge for the dedicated student of animal behavior as well as for any competent animal trainer. Roger Abrantes wrote the textbook included in the online course as a beautiful flip page book. Learn ethology from a leading ethologist.

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On My Way to LA for Guinea Pig Camp

I’m on my way to LA for the Guinea Pig Camp hosted by Michael McManus of Ready-Sit-Go. I’m looking forward to spending some time with these wonderful creatures (the Guinea pigs, that is) which have earned my respect and my heart. I have trained so many of them, and it’s never the same. They are all different with their own personality and charm.

I know Michael. He was the trainer of Nam Peum, the Guinea pig from Florida; I wrote about her last year.

น้ำผึ้ง (nám-pêung), the little Guinea Pig, was born, destined to be snake food. She did not. The first morning, she was clearly disturbed and was could not deal with the obstacles. We gave her a long break and contact, so she felt safe. At three in the afternoon, she was running the course following our fingers.

Lesson learned: don’t make it more difficult than necessary. A bad experience does not result inevitably in trauma. When you face a strong emotional response, resolve it first. Then, return to your plan of action. There was nothing wrong with her learning ability or our plan of action. We just had a temporarily inhibiting emotional response to sort out. Natural selection favors those which cope with adversity. In the evening, we put น้ำผึ้ง in her cage to rest. The next morning, to our surprise, she wasn’t there. Where was she? That’s a story for another time.

I said I was looking forward to seeing the Guinea pigs, and I am. Of course, I’m also looking forward to seeing Michael. He’s a great animal trainer with the right attitude and patience, and always cool. In the evening, we’re gonna drink some beers and play pool at my favorite sports bar and pool hall in Burbank.

By the way, before I forget it, there are still a couple of spots,  should you be interested in participating in the camp. Mail Michael right away at readysitgo@gmail.com.

“My daily blog” has run uninterruptedly for 44 days. I’ll try to write tomorrow, but I can’t promise. It all depends on where I am and whether I have an Internet connection. If you don’t hear from me tomorrow, I’ll be back after tomorrow. Be well.

Off to the airport—I have an ocean to cross, a long journey ahead.

Featured image: Guinea pigs are intelligent and curious animals, very social and showing excellent learning abilities.

Are Our Dogs Stressed?

Dog Stress – Licked My Balls

Are our dogs stressed? Asking the right question is the first step to getting the right answer. Never be afraid to ask and reformulate your questions. At one point, you’ll have asked the question that will lead you to the right answer.

The term stress is dangerously ambiguous. “Stress is a word that is as useful as a Visa card and as satisfying as a Coke. It’s non-committal and also non-committable,” as Richard Shweder says. I’m talking of stress in a biological sense, the response of the sympathetic nervous system to some events, its attempts at reestablishing the lost homeostasis provoked by some intense event.

Please, read:

 

As to the illustration: chuckle at the serious and reflect on the amusing; both are amusingly serious and seriously amusing.

 

Keep smiling!

Learn more in our course Ethology and Behaviorism. Based on Roger Abrantes’ book “Animal Training My Way—The Merging of Ethology and Behaviorism,” this online course explains and teaches you how to create a stable and balanced relationship with any animal. It analyses the way we interact with our animals, combines the best of ethology and behaviorism and comes up with an innovative, yet simple and efficient approach to animal training. A state-of-the-art online course in four lessons including videos, a beautiful flip-pages book, and quizzes.

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Treat me as a dog, honey!

DogPeesSunBatherFaxoDotCom

All characters appearing in this blog are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The facts described may not apply to all regions of the world. Content warning: The following text contains scenes of humor and should not be read by humorless persons.

TreatMeAsADog

Treat me as a dog!

“Treat me as a dog, honey!” If we were as patient, caring and understanding toward our spouses as we are toward our dogs, I’m sure that the rate of divorces would fall dramatically.

Dog owner: “My dog bites me sometimes when he gets too excited playing with a toy. What can I do?”

Dog owner: “My dog chews the couch and tears down the curtains when he’s home alone. What can I do?”

Dog owner: “My dog pees on the floor when we have guests. What can I do?”

Dog owner: “My dog bites people I meet on the street when they talk to me, but it is only to protect me. What can I do?”

DogRuinedCouchABCnews

#1 dog problem (photo from ABC news).

Now, substitute the word dog with the word spousein all sentences above. How many divorces are we facing, do you reckon?

Dog owners go to great extents attempting to solve the problems that invariably will pop up. Being a dog owner is living by the law of Murphy. When all fails, they adapt to their beloved pets and adjust their lives accordingly. They get up early and go to bed late because the dog needs to be walked and do stuff—and sometimes there’s a lot of stuff to do including the almost endless sniffing of a patch of pee.

They don’t go on holidays, or only shortly, because they don’t want to leave the dog behind. The dog decides who they visit, when and for how long. They visit only friends who accept their dog’s visit as well.

PenelopeCruzAndDog

Nothing better than a warm puppy!

The dog cannot be home alone. Gone are the days when they could go to the movies as an impulse.

Gone are the lazy Sunday mornings, staying in bed a bit longer.

Their impeccably clean home is not impeccable any longer because dogs imply hair, dust, fluff, flees, accidents—and the dog never tidies up.

Imagine that your partner bites you when watching an exciting TV program, pees on the toilet seat, hits people who talk to you, force you to go for a walk in pouring rain, regularly interrupts your movie watching, always decides where to go on holidays, chooses which friends you can see, and makes a mess of the house and never cleans up. I bet you would be gone even before you have had the time to finish reading my blog (and I, for one, would not have blamed you for that).

“Treat me as a dog, honey!”

Keep smiling!

PS—Tomorrow, I have an epilog to this one for you. Smiley smiles

Featured image: Dogs are wonderful, aren’t they? (photo from faxo.com).

Do Dogs Understand What We Say?

RogerAbrantesAndRottweiler

“Do dogs understand what we say?” is one of the most frequent questions people ask me.

My answer is, “yes and no. They do, and they don’t. It all comes up to what you mean by understanding.”

Dogs do not understand English or any other human-created language. They do understand words (or rather, sounds) in any language. After hearing “sit” many times, the dog associates it with a particular behavior and with some consequences; and will end up sitting more often than not when it hears that sound. It all depends on the consequences and of the competing stimuli at that precise moment. If the dog has something better to do, offering more attractive consequences, or the consequences for not sitting are not that unpleasant, then it won’t sit. In that respect, it is exactly like us, “I understand perfectly well what you are saying, I just don’t want to do it.”

Dogs do not understand sentences. Most dogs get excited and run to the door when we say, “Let’s go for a walk.” That does not prove the dog understands the sentence, only that it associates one sound in the sentence, probably, the word walk, with one particular behavior. If we say, “Banana ping-pong walk,” we will very likely get the same response.

Tone matters. We don’t need any experiments to verify that. Observing casual dog owners provides us with all the necessary evidence. “Don’t do that, sweetie, we don’t like that at all,” with a gentle voice, is no way to prevent a dog from doing whatever it is doing. Better be quiet if so, because all we say in that tone will only reinforce the behavior we don’t want. Curious, isn’t it, how things can work just the opposite of what we intend?

CockerSpanileAndOwl

There is a universal language with terms all animals understand, terms like peace, danger, companionship, fear, safety, mutuality. Partnerships exist between animals across species (photo by unknown).

If you want your dog to keep on doing what it is doing, you’d better say something in a sweet tone. It does not matter what you say, but it will be more efficient if you always use the same word. Personally, my favorite is dygtig (Danish for clever). It has a good doggy sound, gives me a friendly, doggy face, and I can modulate it for the occasion, e.g. make it long, short, etc.

If you do not want your dog to do something, you’d better say it in a serious tone (I said serious, didn’t say yelling). I use, “Stop,” or “Phooey” in an assertive tone, and that does the trick (usually). I never use “No” for this purpose. “No” conveys important information, i.e., “What you’re doing is not adequate, try something else.” Of course, you don’t need to do as I do. You do what works for you, and I do what works for me.

Body language is essential, and even more decisive for the behavior of our dogs than sounds and tones. If you doubt it, watch my movie “Animal Training My Way.” I barely talk to the dog, and we understand one another perfectly well. Self-confident body language will induce your dog to follow your instructions more readily. Insecure body language will either make your dog nervous or alert it to take control of the situation since you seem to be in no stand to do anything about it.

Does it help to attempt to speak dog language even if with an awful accent? Yes, definitely. Dogs respond well to our yawning, champing (chomping), licking our lips, squeezing our eyes shut, pouty mouth, the canine muzzle grasp, and many other signals. You need to be a keen observer and to practice; to be completely uninhibited and unconcerned about others laughing at you. I like to do it, and I have excellent results. Then again, I speak nine languages (doguese, catese and horsish not counted), some with a poor accent—and I do get rewarded for my effort. It works for me, but again, you do what works best for you.

Do dogs create relationships with us like they do with other dogs? Not exactly, but does it matter? Dogs are uncomplicated. When they live together with other animals, humans included, they adapt (as do many other animals). They don’t regard us as dogs, and I believe they don’t even speculate about that. They communicate with us in their language, and they seem to appreciate when we answer them in something that resembles their language. There’s nothing special about that. It works for and with most animals (if not all). You respect their ways, and you get some results—you don’t, and you get different results.

It’s all a question of communication. When I’m diving with rookie students, their way of moving around, gesticulating far too much, attracts the attention of the local fauna. When I’m there with my diving buddy (we always dive in buddy pairs), they don’t even seem to notice us. The body language of the rookie signals “alarm,” “intruder”—and ours, more experienced as we are, signals “all is good.”

It’s that simple. I don’t get it how someone can claim that attempting to meet the other party halfway is in vain. The argument is that dogs are dogs, and we are humans. That’s a remarkable justification defying all evidence we have about interspecies communication—hence, my commitment to “knowledge to everyone everywhere.”

All I can tell you is that it works well for me. With my inadequacies and until a set limit, when I’m in Rome, I do as Romans do—when I’m underwater, I do as fish do, and when I am with a dog, I do as dogs do. Of course, none of this obliges you to anything in particular.

Featured image: Dogs communicate with us in the ways of their species, and they seem to appreciate when we answer them in something that resembles their language (photo by Lisa Jernigan Bain).

Learn more in our course Ethology and Behaviorism. Based on Roger Abrantes’ book “Animal Training My Way—The Merging of Ethology and Behaviorism,” this online course explains and teaches you how to create a stable and balanced relationship with any animal. It analyses the way we interact with our animals, combines the best of ethology and behaviorism and comes up with an innovative, yet simple and efficient approach to animal training. A state-of-the-art online course in four lessons including videos, a beautiful flip-pages book, and quizzes.

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Recipe for answering questions

Today, my friends, I would like to give you the recipe I use to answer your questions. Feel free to use it as you please.

When you ask about a well-researched topic, it’s easy. I check the relevant literature, weight arguments, come up with a conclusion and answer you.

On the other hand, when you ask about a subject-matter not so extensively studied, I have to think more carefully. Your question may be difficult to answer for different reasons. Maybe it depends too much on unclear definitions. Perhaps, a plausible answer builds upon how we measure evidence. Sometimes, your question is too broad.

Whenever I face questions like those, I stick to my home-made recipe, the one I give you here, one inspired to me by the great masters.

Composing my answer, I have to be overly prudent, for disagreement and controversy befall so readily—the nemesis of the writer sitting on my shoulder—no matter which words one chooses, someone can and will misinterpret them.

Finally, allow me to remind you, we do not always have bullet-proof explanations to everything, in which case suspending judgment seems to me the wisest approach.

Then again, we don’t need to have all the answers, to be able to contemplate life with wonder and to enjoy it fully.

Your Dog Understands Your Yawn

Your Dog Understands Your Yawn

Your dog understands your yawn. A yawn is a simple behavior, a reflex, with specific physiological functions. We are not the only ones yawning. Chimpanzees, bonobos, macaques, and dogs, among others, yawn. Although a simple behavior, yawning also performs social functions. It is contagious, not only within a group of individuals of the same species but also across species and with humans and dogs.

The original function of the yawn is not clear, several explanations being as probable. One study suggests that yawning brings an influx of oxygen to the blood when it has increased levels of carbon dioxide. Another explanation focuses on a particular necessity to stretch the muscles in the tongue and neck. A third interpretation suggests that yawning helps to keep alert, a crucial condition for any predator to succeed. Since social predators need one another to succeed, yawning developed into being contagious (through natural selection) because of the benefits it confers. Another suggestion is that yawning helps to control the temperature of the brain. Studies point out the connection between yawning and neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, that affect various emotional states. That could explain the pacifying function of yawning.

The simplest explanation for yawning being contagious is that the mirror neurons in the frontal cortex of various vertebrates, including humans and dogs, activate the corresponding area in the brain of others. Studies have shown that this mirroring effect occurs not only within the same species but also across species. Mirror neurons may explain imitation and allelomimetic behavior.

WolfYawning

Wolf yawning, a behavior shared by wolves and dogs and also common in other species (photo by Monty Sloan, Wolf Park, Indiana, USA).

Dogs yawn and studies have found that they are more prone to yawn when their owners yawn than when strangers do the same. These are serious studies conducted at the universities of Tokyo, Porto, and London’s Birkbeck College. They discarded the possibility of the dogs’ yawning being a stress response by monitoring their heart rates during the experiments.

The dog’s yawn is like ours. It often precedes the same characteristic sound. We associate yawning with tiredness or boredom. In reality, it can express embarrassment, insecurity, excitement, and relief. Some humans yawn when they are in love, which can be embarrassing if it is mistaken for boredom!

Dogs may yawn when tired, but the yawning functions usually as pacifying behavior (for themselves and opponent). As we see in many other cases, a behavior originates with a particular function and gains other beneficial functions later on. Yawning became a signal of friendship, of peaceful intentions. For example, a male dog may yawn if the female snarls at him during the mating ceremony. A self-confident dog yawns showing friendliness to an insecure opponent, and vice versa. Dogs yawn to us with the same functions and results. They may also yawn as a displacement activity. An owner scolding his dog is a typical situation where we can see a dog yawn. In critical training cases prone to error, as in the so-called ‘stay,’ the behavior of the owner causes the dog insecurity. A yawn is likely to follow, together with licking and muzzle-nudging. When the owner changes behavior, say, by using a friendlier tone or more relaxed body posture, the dog ceases to display those pacifying behaviors.

So, yes, your dog yawns at you to show it is friendly and peaceful—and you can safely yawn back confirming you are as well. Once again, don’t worry if people find it silly. Yawning, champing (chomping), licking your lips, squeezing your eyes shut, pouty mouth, the canine muzzle grasp work—and all communication means are valid as long as they promote understanding, wouldn’t you agree?

Featured image by Anton Antonsen.

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Learn more in our course Ethology and Behaviorism. Based on Roger Abrantes’ book “Animal Training My Way—The Merging of Ethology and Behaviorism,” this online course explains and teaches you how to create a stable and balanced relationship with any animal. It analyses the way we interact with our animals, combines the best of ethology and behaviorism and comes up with an innovative, yet simple and efficient approach to animal training. A state-of-the-art online course in four lessons including videos, a beautiful flip-pages book, and quizzes.

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Do We Understand Behavior?

Behavior is like the spectrum of light (behaviorspectrum)

Do we understand behavior? The conundrum of the behavioral sciences is that they are not exact sciences in the same sense as physics or mathematics. Behavior is like the spectrum of light: it is as difficult to say when yellow turns into orange as when one behavior turns into another. It is a continuum of quantity, perceptible throughout its duration, describable only when quantity turns into quality.

Friendly, insecure, pacifying, submissive, and fearful behaviors are a continuum of quantity, as are content, self-confident, assertive, dominant, and aggressive behaviors. The distinction between any two behaviors is a matter of function; the borderline separating one category from the next is a matter of observational skill, contextual parameters, and convention; the way we understand it all is a matter of definition.

Our brain wants to tidy up its stored information in small boxes, but once in a while, I like to turn them upside down. It’s good mental exercise, I find, and it helps me keep a good sense of perspectives.

Featured image: Behavior is like the spectrum of light. It is a continuum of quantity, perceptible throughout its duration, describable only when quantity turns into quality (© Illustration by Roger Abrantes with drawings from Alice Rasmussen).

Featured Course of the Week

Canine Scent Detection Canine Scent Detection is the same course that Roger Abrantes gives to law enforcement officers, from the acquisition of indication behavior (alert) and target scent to the indication of a hidden scent target. One-on-one tutor support.

Featured Price: € 396.00 € 198.00

Learn more in our course Ethology and Behaviorism. Based on Roger Abrantes’ book “Animal Training My Way—The Merging of Ethology and Behaviorism,” this online course explains and teaches you how to create a stable and balanced relationship with any animal. It analyses the way we interact with our animals, combines the best of ethology and behaviorism and comes up with an innovative, yet simple and efficient approach to animal training. A state-of-the-art online course in four lessons including videos, a beautiful flip-pages book, and quizzes.

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Canine Muzzle Grasp Behavior—Advanced Dog Language

WolfAddultMuzzleGrab

The canine muzzle grasp behavior is an interesting behavior I’ve seen in many canids including our domestic dogs. It’s a behavior that scares many dog owners who believe it signals unconditional and uninhibited aggression. It doesn’t.

The muzzle grasp is yet one of those fascinating behavior that developed and evolved because it conferred a higher fitness to those who practiced it.

The function of this behavior is to confirm a relationship rather than to settle a dispute. The more self-confident dog will muzzle-grasp a more insecure one and thus assert its social position. The latter will not resist the muzzle grasp. On the contrary, it is often the more insecure that invites its opponent to muzzle-grasp it. Even though we sometimes see this behavior at the end of a dispute, wolves and dogs only use it toward individuals they know well (teammates) almost as a way of saying, “You’re still a cub (pup).” The dispute itself is not serious, just a low-key challenge, perhaps over access to a particular resource. Youngsters, cubs, and pups sometimes solicit adults to muzzle-grasp them. This behavior appears to be reassuring for them, a means of saying, “I’m still your cub (pup).”

DogMuzzleGrabMarco

Dogs also show the muzzle grasp behavior (photo by Marco de Kloet).

When used to settle a dispute, a muzzle grasp looks more violent and ends with the muzzle-grasped individual showing what we ethologists call passive-submissive behavior, i.e. laying on its back.

The muzzle grasp behavior emerges early on. Canine mothers muzzle-grasp their puppies (sometimes accompanied by a growl) to deter them from suckling during weaning. At first, her behavior frightens them and they may whimper excessively, even if the mother has not harmed them the least. Later on, when grasped by the muzzle, the puppy immediately lies down with its belly up. Previously, it was assumed that the mother needed to pin the puppy to the ground, but this is not the case as most puppies lie down voluntarily. Cubs and pups also muzzle-grasp one another during play, typically between six and nine weeks of age. A muzzle grasp does not involve biting, just grasping. This behavior helps develop a relationship of trust between both parties: “We don’t hurt one another.”

WolfPCubsMuzzleGrab

Cubs and pups muzzle grasp one another during play (photo by Monty Sloan).

Domestic dogs sometimes approach their owners puffing to them gently with their noses. By grasping them gently around the muzzle, we reaffirm we accept them. We show self-control and that they can trust us. After being muzzle grasped for a while, the dog will usually show a nose lick, maybe yawn and then walk calmly away. It’s like the dog saying, “I’m still your puppy” and the owner saying, “I know and I’ll take good care of you.” Yawn back and all is good.

Speaking dog language helps promote an understanding between our dogs and us. It may make us look silly, but who cares? I don’t, do you?

Featured image: Muzzle grasp in adult wolves (photo by Monty Sloan).

Featured Course of the Week

Canine Scent Detection Canine Scent Detection is the same course that Roger Abrantes gives to law enforcement officers, from the acquisition of indication behavior (alert) and target scent to the indication of a hidden scent target. One-on-one tutor support.

Featured Price: € 396.00 € 198.00

 

Learn more in our course Ethology. Ethology studies the behavior of animals in their natural environment. It is fundamental knowledge for the dedicated student of animal behavior as well as for any competent animal trainer. Roger Abrantes wrote the textbook included in the online course as a beautiful flip page book. Learn ethology from a leading ethologist.

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The Little Boy and His Dog

This is a beautiful recording of a beautiful moment. What strikes me most in this clip is the peace emanating from both the little boy and the dog. It is but an elusive instant in the infinite history of time, but, for all they care, the world could be in flames. That one moment they share, nothing can take from them, it is all they have there and then. It will never be undone, it will never be any different, frozen as it is for all eternity. They are what they are and they are no different. Peace comes not from striving and desiring, but from being—no conditions, no expectations, no questioning the past or querying the future. Life is what it is, and any relationship is unique because it involves unique individuals, unique conditions.

The magic of life lies not in living against, but in living with.

__________

As much as I would like to credit the author of this clip, unfortunately, his or her name remains unknown to me. Thanks for allowing us to share this beautiful, private moment.

__________

PS— At 1730 hrs GMT, 10 hours after I published my blog, I got a message from my Facebook friend Joeson Hsu from Taiwan giving me the information I missed. Thanks, Joeson. The author of this movie is Ana, the mother of Herman, the little boy, and the dog is Himalaya.  Thank you so much, Ana, for sharing with us. Indeed, communication is a will, not a question of language or species, and a relationship is a natural thing.