Bonding with Your Dog—Are You Doing it Properly?

Desi And Dog

Bonding develops stronger and more readily in stressful situations. SAR handlers and their dogs have probably some of the strongest bonds we witness between the two species. Photo: Désirée Mallè, Alpine Rescue Team, and her dog.

Bonding in animal behavior is a biological process in which individuals of the same or different species develop a connection. The function of bonding is to facilitate co-operation.

Cat and rabbit (photo by Mark Taylor).

Cat and rabbit (photo by Mark Taylor).

Parents and offspring develop strong bonds so that the former take care of the latter and the latter accept the teachings of the former. This serves both parties best. As a result of filial bonding, offspring and parents or foster parents develop an attachment. This attachment ceases to be important once the juvenile reaches adulthood, but may have long-term effects upon subsequent social behavior. Among domestic dogs, for example, there is a sensitive period from the third to the tenth week of age, during which normal contacts develop. If a puppy grows up in isolation beyond about fourteen weeks of age, it will not develop normal relationships.

Males and females of social species develop strong bonds during courtship motivating them to care for their progeny, so they increase their chances of the survival of 50% of their genes.

Social animals develop bonds by living together and having to fend for their survival day after day. Grooming, playing, mutual feeding, all have a relevant role in bonding. Intense experiences do too. Between adults, surviving moments of danger together seems to be strongly bonding.

Rabbit and kitten (photo by Mark Taylor).

Rabbit and kitten (photo by Mark Taylor).

Bonding behavior like grooming and feeding seems to release neurotransmitters (e.g., oxytocin), which lowers innate defensiveness, increasing the chances of bonding.

We often mention bonding together with imprinting. Even though imprinting is bonding, not all bonding is imprinting. Imprinting describes any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior. Some animals appear to be preprogrammed to learn about certain aspects of the environment during particular sensitive phases of their development. The learning is pre-programmed in the sense that it will occur without any obvious reinforcement or punishment.

Our dogs in our domestic environments develop bonds in various ways. Grooming, resting with each other, barking together, playing and chasing intruders are strong bonding behaviors. Their bonding behavior is by no means restricted to individuals of their own species. They bond with the family cat as well and with us, humans.

Bonding is a natural process that will inevitably happen when individuals share responsibilities. Looking into one another’s eyes is only bonding for a while, but surviving together may be bonding for lifetime—and this applies to all social animals, dogs and humans included.

We develop stronger bonds with our dogs by doing things together rather than by just sitting and petting them. These days, we are so afraid of anything remotely connected with stress that we forget the strongest bonds ever originate under times of intense experiences. A little stress doesn’t harm anyone, quite the contrary. I see it every time I train canine scent detection. The easier it is, the quickest it will be forgotten. A tough nut to crack, on the other hand, is an everlasting memory binding the parties to one another.

I even suspect one of the reasons we have so many divorces these days is that we want everything to be easy and oh so pleasant that in the end, there’s nothing holding the two together—but that’s another story for maybe another time. Meanwhile, ponder and enjoy the photos from the great animal photographer Mark Taylor.

"Ethology" by Roger Abrantes

If animal behavior fascinates you, you will enjoy "Ethology—The Study of Animal Behavior in the Natural Environment," the book and course by ethologist Roger Abrantes.
Enrolling for this course puts you in direct contact with the author to whom you can pose any question while you complete your coursework. Click here to read more and enroll.

The Final Walk

My walk home from the pier is one of life’s small pleasures. It’s normally a 20-minute stroll, but it can often take up to an hour or sometimes even two, as I have to stop and chat with everybody on the way, from merchants to people I know by sight, or even complete strangers. This is the Thai way and the way of my village in Southern Thailand where everybody smiles and talks to you.

Old dog

Bombom was old and tired, ready for his final walk to the temple.

The weather is nearly always hot and sunny, between 29º and 38ºC (85º and 100º F), Today it’s exactly 32º C according to my diving computer. Of course it rains during the rainy season, but only for an hour or two and everything soon dries off, leaving a sense of freshness and the smell of wet soil in the air. Sometimes it rains cats and dogs, turning the streets in the village into small rivers, but everyone takes it in their stride and, with shoes off and pants rolled up, life continues (literally) with a smile.
After having completed three dives, one of them in a strong surge, I’m starving as usual. These days, in my ageing youth, my job in Thailand is marine biology environmental management, which, basically, means I dive, sometimes with students, sometimes without, take pictures of the fish and corals I see, and then write a report—yes, I call that a job! I stop at one of those remarkable street vendors on the main street to grab something to eat. ‘Street food’ is so cheap and so good that it doesn’t make any sense to go home and cook.

Buddhist Monk and Dog.

Buddhist Monk and Dog (image by John Lander).

My favorite ‘restaurant’ (it looks more like an open garage) is a family business, like most small businesses in Thailand. The owners live there too. They have a TV and a bed for the kids in the back—that is, behind the four tables for the guests. It’s all on view for all to see. Of course, you don’t want to isolate the kids in a room by themselves. Children (and dogs) are an inherent part of Thai life; you see them everywhere. They are allowed to do whatever they want, are seldom scolded or yelled at and, amazingly enough, they are pretty well-behaved. It puzzles me how they manage it, especially when I think of some of our little brats in the West, both human, and canine. I am yet to discover their secret, but I guess it has something to do with the fact they are part of every aspect of daily life from the day they are born; they are perfectly integrated with no artificially constructed, designated kids-zones. The same goes for the dogs, they belong there like anyone else: no fuss, no extra attention, no special treatment one way or another.

“Sawasdee kha khoon Logel,” Phee Mali greets me with a big smile when she sees me.

Phee means big sister and Mali means Jasmine, which is her name. I’m Logel because Thais are always on first name terms. Last names are a relatively new invention imposed on them by the government in response to the growth of the nation and a more modern society. The telephone directory is ordered by first names. King Rama VI introduced the practice of surnames in 1920 and he personally invented names for about 500 families. All Thais have nicknames. You call your friends by their nicknames and sometimes you don’t even know their real name! I’m Logel because most Thais can’t pronounce the ‘r’ sound, not even in their own language and, surprisingly enough, they do have ‘r’ in Thai.

Dog in Temple

Thais often take the dogs to the local temple so they can die in peace, in the company of the monks, near Buddha.

“You OK, you see beautiful fish today?” Phee Mali asks me in ‘Tenglish’—or Thai English, which is a language in its own right, most charming and highly addictive. Before long and without even noticing it, you begin speaking Tenglish. I speak a mixture of Thai and Tenglish with the locals. As my Thai improves, I speak more Thai and less Tenglish, but Thai is difficult as it is a tone language. The tone with which you pronounce a word changes its meaning and sometimes dramatically so. There are words I consistently mispronounce which has the Thais in fits of laughter, either because I talk utter nonsense, or I say something naughty. They love it when it’s the latter. They even encourage me to say something they know I can’t pronounce just to amuse themselves. It’s all good-hearted and good fun, with no disrespect intended. On the contrary, I get preferential treatment because I speak Thai. I’ll transcribe below some of our conversations in English, directly translated from the Thai words, in order to give my readers a feel for it.

“Yes,” I answer, “I saw beautiful fish and corals. Thale (sea) Andaman very good.”

“Oh you so black!” she exclaims with furrowed brows and a smile. ‘Black’ actually means either tanned or sun burnt, as the case may be. Thai women don’t like to be sun tanned. They like white, as they say, and they become very worried when they see someone with what in the West we call a healthy, attractive tan.

“You hung’y ‘ight, gwai teeaw moo pet mak ‘ight?” Phee Mali asks me laughing. She knows just what’s on my mind—I love a hot, spicy gwai teeaw moo, especially after a hard day’s work. It’s a soup, containing noodles and pork, chicken or shrimp, with everything else imaginable thrown in. It even comes with a side plate of fresh vegetables that you tear into pieces with your fingers and add to the soup as you please. You season it all yourself with dry chili, fresh chili, chili sauce, fish sauce, soy, pepper, salt, and a bit of sugar (yes sugar, try it and you’ll see why I love it). It’s delicious I can assure you, and healthy too.

I eat my gwai teeaw moo and sip down my iced green tea, no sugar. The sun will set in about half an hour; it always goes down at the same time here, seven degrees north of the equator. No rain today. I relish life in Paradise!

“Tao thale sa baay dee mai.” The kids come running to ask me about the fish and especially the sea turtle, their favorite—which is a good opportunity for me to practice my Thai language. They call me Lung Logel (Uncle Roger), in deference to my age. Then, it’s the dogs’ turn to say hi—in Doggish, one language I do know, no accent and spoken the same on every continent.

Thai Child wai.

The wai is the Thai greeting when you raise both hands together to your chin. It still strikes me as the most beautiful greeting I’ve ever seen.

I see Ae on the other side of the street (Ae is a funny name deriving from the Thai peekaboo game). I know her and her family. Her father works on one of the boats I regularly sail with on my diving tours. I often help him dock the boat when we arrive at the pier in less than perfect weather and we sometimes have a beer together after having secured the boat, unloaded, etc. Ae is squatting beside her dog, one of those Thai dogs that looks the same as every other. Village dogs in Thailand all look alike, as if they were a particular breed, the product of random breeding throughout the years. I call them ‘default dogs.’

“Ae sad, right?’ I ask the kids.

“Oh, dog Ae old already, tomorrow father of Ae bring dog to go temple,” Chang Lek (Little Elephant is his name) replies.

I finish my meal and go over to talk to Ae, still squatting beside her dog and petting him. I can see Bombom is old and tired. He’s a good, friendly dog. He can often be seen strolling around the village, quietly surveying the neighborhood. He’s always incredibly dusty despite Ae and her mother painstakingly and frequently bathing him. When I approach them, he barely raises his head. He gives me that affable, resigned look of his.

“Sawasdee khrap, Ae.”

“Sawasdee kha,” she says to me and hastens to wai to me. The wai is the Thai greeting when you raise both hands together to your chin. It still strikes me as the most beautiful greeting I’ve ever seen.

“Bombom is old, right?” I ask her.

“Yessir.”

“Bombom already had happy life. You are good friend of Bombom.”

“Yessir,” she says gently.

“Bombom likes you very much,” I say, lost for words.

“Tomorrow Mom and Dad bring Bombom to go to temple,” she replies and I see a big tear roll down her left cheek.

“Yes. I know,” I tell her. Again lost for words, I add “Ae, I go across the street to buy ice cream for us to sit here eating ice cream and talking to Bombom. You like that?”

“Yessir, thank you so much sir,” she says and manages to give me a lovely smile. “Bombom likes ice cream so much,” she adds and her eyes are now full of thick, sorrowful, young tears.

In Thai culture and beliefs, all living beings under the sun deserve the same respect. Species is of no relevance. They love their pets and when they are old and dying, some Thais take them to the local temple so they can die in peace, in the company of the monks, near Buddha. That’s why there are always many dogs around the temples, which sometimes is a real problem. The temples are poor. A monk owns only seven articles. The villagers cook for them (and the dogs) in the morning before going to work.

Sawasdee khrap,

ชีวิตที่ดี

R~

The Thai Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

— by Roger Abrantes

 

We all know Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the brave mongoose from Kipling’s ‘The Jungle book.’ This is the story of Mah Noy, the brave dog from Koh Lanta Yai in Southern Thai.

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the mongoose hero from Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.”

Koh Lanta Yai (เกาะลันตา) remains one of  Thailand’s well-kept secrets (I shouldn’t even reveal the name). It is relatively close to the better-known islands of Koh Phuket and Koh Phi Phi, but is practically inaccessible, requiring two flights, a long drive, and two ferry trips. Tourists are few and far between on this particular South Andaman island and it is virtually devoid of Western influence, except for a few resorts for those who want a taste of unspoiled paradise. Koh Lanta Yai is the biggest of 52 islands of which only 12 are inhabited.

Of course, it’s much easier for me to get to Koh Lanta, as I am resident on a neighboring island only 43.5 nautical miles away. The beaches of Koh Lanta are idyllic: the sand unsullied the water clear and warm (about 86-88º F) and the underwater world along the coral reef just breathtaking (although not literally, I’m happy to say). I always look forward to my diving assignments nearby, drifting above the Staghorn and the Anemone corals monitoring the various species’ fortunes. What a great job!

Thai Fisherman With Dog

Thai fisherman like to have their dogs with them for company and practical purposes.

When I’m working in Koh Lanta, I always go ashore in the evening and stay in modest accommodation right on the beach. On one of these occasions, just before sunset, I was sitting in front of my bungalow, cleaning my equipment, when two children came along to talk to me, as always, curious about foreigners.

I had seen them both before; they belong to the food booth where I often eat, just behind the bungalow. We talked about the sea and the fish and about my diving gear, which of course fascinates them.

After having washed my gear, I decided to walk the 30 yards up the cliff to grab something to eat, and the kids followed me. My Thai is not as good as I would like, but my inadequacies have their advantages. As it is so difficult to pronounce words correctly, I nearly always commit embarrassing mistakes that produce a great deal of giggling—and giggling is the best way I know to decrease distance between strangers.

Woman with her dog: Thai street food booth

Thai street food cooking and selling is a small family business and since dogs are part of the daily life in Thailand it is not unusual to see them with their owners at work.

“Khun cheu aria?” (What’s your name?), I asked the little boy who was giggling the most and who happened to have one of his front teeth missing.

He told me his name, which sounded funny to me. Thais have all sorts of interesting nicknames, and they are especially fond of animal names. Elephant, shrimp, crab, fish, bird, duck, rabbit, turtle, and even chicken are common names—but I’ve never heard a nickname like this little boy’s. It was then that his mother, Poo (Crab), the owner of the food booth, told me the story.

Five years earlier, two days after giving birth to the now gap-toothed boy, Poo was cooking dinner whilst the family dog catnapped behind the cradle where her newborn baby was happily babbling away to himself.

Thais usually cook outdoors. It’s always warm and they don’t like the smell of food indoors. The dog was typically Thai, of unknown origin, the size of a small spaniel, with an unruly black and white coat, and friendly, deep brown eyes. They had found him on the street a couple of years beforehand and had fed him. For want of a better name, they called him just (หมาน้อย), Mah Noy. He stayed around and finally moved in a couple of weeks later after conquering their hearts. The pressure of natural selection for dogs in Thailand is on kindness. The kindest dogs have a greater chance of survival and pass on their ‘kinder’ genes to their progeny.

On that particular day, Mah Noy gave Poo such a fright she almost lost hold of her hot pan, which could have resulted in serious burns. The dog had suddenly emitted a deep growl and then in two agile, determined jumps, just missing the baby’s cradle, he launched himself on top of a cobra, biting it firmly behind the head.

Thai boy and puppy

Mah Noy (หมาน้อย), the boy, got his unusual name for a good reason.

The Andaman Cobra (Naja sagittifera) is an impressive snake, measuring about three to four feet in length. The effects of its venom are devastating; it is capable of killing a human in 30 minutes.

Poo was terrified, rushed to pick up the baby, and ran out of the front gate into the street where she began shouting for her husband. Na (short for Chai Cha Na = victory) came running to the scene and charged into the backyard to grab a spade. The cobra was lying a few feet from the dog, apparently lifeless, but, just in case, Na cut it in two with a well-aimed strike with the spade. Mah Noy looked up at him, gasping for air, and barely able to wag the tip of his bushy tail. Na understood right away that the dog was dying, picked him up and, holding his dog firmly on his lap with one hand, he rode his motorbike as quickly as he could to the local vet.

On the way to the vet, Mah Noy peed and pooped on his lap. Na stopped to get a better grasp on the dog. Mah Noy looked at him, gasped for air for a last time and gave a final wag of his tail. Na understood it was too late for the vet and the strong fisherman from the South Andaman Sea began to weep like a child, right there on the side of the road to Klong Dao, in the fading light of the day on which he had come so close to losing his first-born baby boy.

When Na got home to Poo and their newborn, they buried Mah Noy in their backyard and placed a yellow marigold on top of the grave (yellow is the color of friendship for Thais). That evening, they decided to call their baby boy หมาน้อย, Mah Noy, which in Thai means ‘puppy.’

Sawasdee khrap,

ชีวิต ที่ด

 

16 Things You Should Stop Doing in Order to Be Happy with Your Dog

Roger Abrantes in 1986Cover photo from the author’s book from 1986 “Hunden, vor ven” (The Dog, Our Friend) (photo by Ole Suszkievicz).

 

Here is a list of 16 things you should stop doing in order to make life with your dog happier and your relationship stronger. Difficult? Not at all. You just need to want to do it and then simply do it. You can begin as soon as you finish reading this.

1. Stop being fussy—don’t worry, be happy

Like most things in life, being a perfectionist has its advantages and disadvantages. When you own a dog, you tend to live by Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. There are so many variables that things seldom go 100% the way you expect. You can and should plan and train, but be prepared to accept all kinds of variations, improvisations, and minor mishaps along the way as long as no one is injured, of course. In most situations, less than perfect is better than good. Why worry about perfection—a concept that only exists in your mind—and doesn’t make anyone happy, neither you nor your dog?

2. Stop being too serious—have a laugh

If you don’t have a good sense of humor, don’t live with a dog. Dog ownership gives rise to many mishaps where laughter is the best way out. Mishaps are only embarrassing in our minds. Your dog doesn’t even know what embarrassment is, and you should follow its example. As long as no one gets hurt, just laugh at your and your dog’s mistakes.

3. Stop your desire to control everything—take it as it comes

When life with a dog is often dictated by Murphy’s Law, if you attempt to control your dog’s every move, you’ll end up with an ulcer or fall into a depression. Give up your need to control. Of course, you should be able to manage your dog’s behavior reasonably well for safety’s sake, but you should let go of anything that is not a matter of life or death. Reasonable rules are necessary and serve a purpose, but total control is unnecessary and self-defeating. Take it as it comes and keep smiling!

4. Stop apportioning blame—move on

When things go wrong, and they will, I assure you, don’t waste your time apportioning blame. Was it your fault, the dog’s fault, or the neighbor’s cat’s fault? Who cares? Move on and, if you found the scenario all rather upsetting, try to foresee a similar situation in the future and avoid it. If it was no big deal, forget about it.

5. Stop believing in old wives’ tales—be critical

The world is full of irrational, unfounded old wives’ tales. These days, the Internet provides us with quick and easy access to a lot of valuable information—and a lot of junk as well: bad arguments, bad definitions, unsubstantiated claims, fallacies, emotional statements, pseudo-science, sales promotions, hidden political agendas, religious preaching, etc. Of course, in the name of freedom of expression, I believe everyone should be allowed to post whatever they like, even the purest and most refined crap—but both you and I also have the right to disregard it. Use your critical thinking. Don’t stop asking yourself, “How can that be?” and “How did he/she come to that conclusion?” Suspend judgment and action until you have had time to ponder on it and, if necessary, seek a second and third opinion. If the argument is sound and you like it, then do it. If the argument is sound, but you don’t like it, don’t do it and think more about it. If the argument is unsound, reject it and think no more about it. Make up your own mind and do what you think is right.

Special OfferHappy Golden
FEATURED Course of the week—limited OFFER
at a reduced price—ONLY until Sunday. Click here.

6. Stop caring about labels—be free

We are over-swamped by labels because labels sell, but they only sell if you buy them. Should you be a positive, ultra-positive, R+, R+P-, balanced, naturalistic, moralistic, conservative, realistic, progressive, clickerian or authoritarian dog owner? Stop caring about what label you should bear. When you enjoy a great moment with your dog, the label you bear is irrelevant. A label is a burden; it restricts you and takes away your freedom. Labels are for insecure people who need to hide behind an image. Believe in yourself, be the dog owner you want to be and you won’t need labels.

7. Stop caring about what others think—live your life

You spend very little time with most of the people you meet, significantly more with family and close friends, but you live your whole life with yourself. So, why care about what other people think about you as a dog owner or your dog’s behavior, when you probably won’t see them again or will only ever see them sporadically? If they like you and your dog, fine. If they don’t, it’s not your problem.

8. Stop complaining—don’t waste your time

You only have a problem when there is a discrepancy between the way things are and the way you expect them to be. If your expectations are realistic, try and do something about achieving them. If they’re not, stop complaining, it’s a waste of time and energy. If you can do something about it, do it. If you can’t, move on. Period.

9. Stop excusing yourself—be yourself

You don’t have to excuse yourself or your dog for the way you are. As long as you don’t bother anyone, you are both entitled to do what you like and be the way you are. You don’t need to be good at anything, whether it be Obedience, Agility, Musical Free Style, Heel Work to Music, Flyball, Frisbee Dog, Earth Dog, Ski-Joring, Bike-Joring, Earthdog, Rally-O, Weight Pulling, Carting, Schutzhund, Herding, Nose Work, Therapy, Field Trials, Dock Dogs, Dog Diving, Disc Dogs, Ultimate Air Dogs, Super Retriever, Splash Dogs, Hang Time, Lure Course Racing, Sled Dog Racing or Treibball; and you don’t need excuses as to why not. You don’t even need to excuse the fact that your dog can’t sit properly. Change what you want to change and can change; and don’t waste time and energy thinking about what you don’t want to, don’t need to or can’t change. Do whatever you and your dog enjoy, however you like, so that both you and your dog are happy. It’s as simple as that!

10. Stop feeling bad—act now

If you’re unhappy with any particular aspect of your life with your dog, do something to change it. Identify the problem, set a goal, make a plan and implement it. Feeling bad and guilty doesn’t help anyone—it doesn’t help you, your dog, or the cherished ones with whom you share your life.

11. Stop your urge to own—be a mate

The ownership of living beings is slavery; and, thankfully, slavery is abolished. Don’t regard yourself as the owner of your dog. Think of your dog as a younger and less experienced mate you are responsible for and needs your guidance. You don’t own your children, your partner or your friends either.

12. Stop dependency—untie your self

Love has nothing to do with dependency, obsession and craving, quite the contrary. Love your dog but don’t create mutual dependency. Have a life of your own and give your dog some space. You and your dog are two independent individuals. Enjoy living together as free agents, not being addicted each other. Stop projecting yourself onto your dog.

13. Stop turning your dog into a substitute—show respect

A dog is a dog, and it is indeed a remarkable living being. Love it, enjoy its company, but don’t make it a substitute for a human partner, a friend, a child or a spouse. To expect anyone to be a substitute is the greatest disrespect you can show to a human as well as non-human animal—and to yourself. Stop letting your dog play a role for you and begin to love your dog as a dog.

14. Stop rationalizing—be truthful

All relationships are trades: you give and you take. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as there is balance. Be honest with yourself: what does your dog give you and what do you give your dog? If you find that one of you is almost solely a giver or a taker, think about it and redress the balance. Your dog needs you, just as you need your dog and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you both are givers and takers. You didn’t get your dog just to save the poor, little creature. You got your dog so you could both enjoy a solid and fruitful partnership.

15. Stop wanting what you can’t have—be happy with what you’ve got

That is a very common human characteristic: you always want what you haven’t, and you are blind to all the good you do have. Your dog gives you a great deal, and the two of you can be perfectly happy together, even if your dog is not particularly good at anything. It’s amazing how dog owners say they love their dogs, and yet they spend most of the time trying to change their behavior. Focus on what you do have, not on what you don’t, appreciate it and be grateful for it.

16. Stop fighting yourself—follow your heart

There are many different ways of being a good dog owner, and yours is your own and different to everyone else’s. It’s your life. As long as you don’t harm anyone, live it the way that feels good for you. Listen to experts, ponder on their advice, but, at the end of the day, do what you feel is right for you, follow your heart. Be yourself.

Life is great!

 

CAAE Certificate in Advanced Applied Ethology PREMIUM PROGRAM tutored by Dr. Roger Abrantes

A program for the top professional. Earn your prestigious CAAE diploma. Full one-on-one tutoring by Dr. Roger Abrantes.

EUR 6000 (USD 6,357.96) if available.

Includes 25% discount on all seminars/workshops given by Dr. Abrantes.
ReadMoreEnrollNow

Click read more to find out if Dr. Abrantes is available to be your tutor.

ReadMoreEnrollNow

CAAE as a regular on-line self-study program with unspecified tutor support.
EUR 3588 (or 214 monthly) — USD 3,802.06 (or USD 226.77 monthly).

 

Bonding and Stress

Dog and Child by Elena ShumilovaDog and Child in a bonding moment (photo by Elena Shumilova).

 

Bonding in animal behavior is a biological process in which individuals of the same or different species develop a connection. The function of bonding is to promote cooperation.

Parents and offspring develop strong bonds—the former takes care of the latter, and the latter trusts the teachings of the former. As a result of filial bonding, offspring and parents or foster parents develop an attachment. This attachment ceases to be necessary once the juvenile reaches adulthood, but may have long-term effects on subsequent social behavior. Among domestic dogs, for example, there is a sensitive period from the third to the tenth week of age, during which common contacts develop. If a puppy grows up in isolation beyond about fourteen weeks of age, it will not develop the relationships considered normal for species and population.

Males and females of social species develop strong bonds during courtship motivating them to care for their progeny, so they increase the probability of the survival of 50% of their genes.

Social animals develop bonds by living together and having to fend for survival day after day. Grooming, playing, reciprocal feeding, all have a relevant role in bonding. Intense experiences do too. Between adults, surviving moments of danger together is strongly bonding.

 

Never Give Up By Cuttestpaw

The strongest bonds originate under times of intense experiences (photo by Cuttestpaw).

 

Behavior like grooming and feeding seems to release neurotransmitters (e.g., oxytocin), lowering the innate defensiveness and increasing the odds of bonding.

We often mention bonding together with imprinting. Even though imprinting is bonding, not all bonding is imprinting. Imprinting describes any phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior. Some animals appear to be preprogrammed to learn about certain aspects of the environment during particular sensitive phases of their development. This learning is preprogrammed, in the sense that it will occur without any visible reinforcement or punishment.

Our dogs, in the domestic environment we offer them, develop bonds in various ways. Grooming, resting together, collective barking, and playing and chasing intruders are efficient at creating bonds. Their bonding behavior is by no means restricted to individuals of their species. They bond with the family cat as well and with us, humans.

Bonding is a natural process that will inevitably happen when individuals share responsibilities. Looking into one another’s eyes is only bonding for a while, but surviving together may be bonding for life—and this applies to all social animals, dogs and humans included.

We develop stronger bonds with our dogs by solving problems together rather than by just sitting and petting them. These days, we are so afraid of anything remotely connected to stress that we forget that the strongest bonds originate under times of intense experiences. A little stress doesn’t harm anyone, quite the contrary. I see it every time I train canine scent detection. The easier it is, the quickest it will be forgotten. A tough nut to crack, on the other hand, is an everlasting memory binding the parties to one another.

One of the most exciting scientific discoveries of the latest is on epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene activity not caused in the DNA.

Stress hormones seem to boost an epigenetic process either increasing or decreasing the expression of particular genes. Stress hormones change specific cells of the brain that help memories to be easier retained.

We need to be careful. 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 about stress in a biological sense, the response of the sympathetic nervous system to some events, its attempts at re-establishing the lost homeostasis provoked by some intense event.

Being an evolutionary biologist, when contemplating a mechanism, I always ask: “What is the function of that? What is it good for?” A behavior can originate by chance (most do), but if it does not confer the individual some extra benefits as to survival and reproduction, it will (most likely) not spread into the population.

Asking the right question is the first step to getting the right answer. Never fear to ask and reformulating your questions. At one point, you’ll have asked the question that will lead you to the right answer.

Why do unpleasant memories seem to stay with us longer than pleasant ones, sometimes even for the rest of our lives? 

Situations of exceeding anxiety and stressful, intense experiences create unpleasant memories. It is important, if not crucial, to remember situations that might have hurt us seriously. It makes sense that the stress hormones should facilitate our retaining the memory of events occurring under stress.

Stress hormones do bind to the particular receptors in the brain that enhance the control of the epigenetic mechanisms involved in remembering and, hence, in learning. They do boost the epigenetic mechanisms that regulate the expression of the genes crucial for memory and learning.

Not all stress boosts learning. Too much stress produces the opposite effect. There is a difference between being stressed and stressed out. When we experience far too much stress, our organism goes into an alarm mode where survival has the first and sole priority, and memory formation decreases. Chronic stress does not promote learning either.

Bottom line: we need to be nuanced about stress. Events causing healthy stress responses are necessary for enhancing attention to details, the formation of memory, the creation of bonds, and learning—and too much stress works against it.

___________

* Burnout vs Depression – Human Stress

CheeringDiploma
Happy Golden
Earn your Diploma in Animal Behavior and Training paying your fees in monthly installments
CPDT: EUR 110 — CACE: EUR 132 — CAAE: EUR 214
Start earning your diploma from Ethology Institute Cambridge, today!
Click here to read more and select your favorite program. Then choose, "pay by installments."

Did You Know that Stress Helps Learning?

Duckling Trying To Climb.
Stress hormones change the particular cells of the brain that help memories to be easier retained. Therefore, the right amount of stress facilitates learning (photo by David Bitton).

 

I wrote in my last blog, “A tough nut to crack, on the other hand, is an everlasting memory binding the parties to one another.” There is a reason for that.

One of the most exciting scientific discoveries of the latest is on epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene activity not caused by changes in the DNA.

Stress hormones seem to boost an epigenetic process either increasing or decreasing the expression of certain genes. Stress hormones change particular cells of the brain that help memories to be easier retained.

We need to be careful, though. 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-commital and also non-commitable,” 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.

Being an evolutionary biologist, when contemplating a mechanism, I always ask: “What is the function of that? What is that good for? A mechanism can originate by chance (most do), but if it does not confer the individual some extra benefits as to survival and reproduction, it will not spread into the population.

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.

Why do unpleasant memories seem to stay with us longer than pleasant ones, sometimes even for the rest of our lives?

Situations of exceeding anxiety and stressful, intense experiences create unpleasant memories. It is important, if not crucial, to remember situations that might have hurt us seriously. It makes sense that the stress hormones should facilitate our retaining the memory of events occurring under stress.

Stress hormones do bind to the particular receptors in the brain that enhance the control of the epigenetic mechanisms involved in remembering and, hence, in learning. They do boost the epigenetic mechanisms that control the expression of the genes crucial for memory and learning.

Not all stress boosts learning. Too much stress produces the opposite effect. There is a difference between being stressed and stressed out. When we experience far too much stress, our organism goes into alarm mode where survival has the first and sole priority and memory formation decreases. Chronic stress does not promote learning either.

Bottom line: we need to be nuanced about stress. Events causing healthy stress responses are necessary for enhancing attention to details, the formation of memory, creation of bonds, and learning—and too much stress, or for too long a period, works against it.

CheeringDiploma
Happy Golden
Earn your Diploma in Animal Behavior and Training paying your fees in monthly installments
CPDT: EUR 110 — CACE: EUR 132 — CAAE: EUR 214
Start earning your diploma from Ethology Institute Cambridge, today!
Click here to read more and select your favorite program. Then choose, "pay by installments."

Are You Bonding Properly with Your Dog?

Guinea Pig and Dog (photo by Mark Taylor).

Guinea Pig and Dog (photo by Mark Taylor).

Guinea pig camp starting tomorrow, Michael and Natalie of Ready, Sit, Go are busy with the last preparations, but there’s always time for a nice dinner and a couple of hours around the pool table. Fantasia on San Fernando in Burbank is my favorite pool hall and sports bar in the area. It has a relaxed atmosphere, a diversity of clients, good Brunswick 9-foot tables and Guinness on draught.

Pool is a great game. It requires technique, strategy, mind, skill, and it is a social activity. You play, talk, crack a joke or pick up a serious topic, and you have a good time with your mates (= buddies in the US).

Thinking about my blog for today, I asked Michael, “What should I write about?”

“Bonding,” he answered, “bonding in dogs”—and so bonding it is.

Bonding in animal behavior is a biological process in which individuals of the same or different species develop a connection. The function of bonding is to facilitate co-operation.

Cat and rabbit (photo by Mark Taylor).

Cat and rabbit (photo by Mark Taylor).

Parents and offspring develop strong bonds so that the former take care of the latter and the latter accept the teachings of the former. This serves both parties best. As a result of filial bonding, offspring and parents or foster parents develop an attachment. This attachment ceases to be important once the juvenile reaches adulthood, but may have long-term effects upon subsequent social behavior. Among domestic dogs, for example, there is a sensitive period from the third to the tenth week of age, during which normal contacts develop. If a puppy grows up in isolation beyond about fourteen weeks of age, it will not develop normal relationships.

Males and females of social species develop strong bonds during courtship motivating them to care for their progeny, so they increase their chances of the survival of 50% of their genes.

Social animals develop bonds by living together and having to fend for their survival day after day. Grooming, playing, mutual feeding, all have a relevant role in bonding. Intense experiences do too. Between adults, surviving moments of danger together seems to be strongly bonding.

Rabbit and kitten (photo by Mark Taylor).

Rabbit and kitten (photo by Mark Taylor).

Bonding behavior like grooming and feeding seems to release neurotransmitters (e.g., oxytocin), which lowers innate defensiveness, increasing the chances of bonding.

We often mention bonding together with imprinting. Even though imprinting is bonding, not all bonding is imprinting. Imprinting describes any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior. Some animals appear to be preprogrammed to learn about certain aspects of the environment during particular sensitive phases of their development. The learning is pre-programmed in the sense that it will occur without any obvious reinforcement or punishment.

Our dogs in our domestic environments develop bonds in various ways. Grooming, resting with each other, barking together, playing and chasing intruders are strong bonding behaviors. Their bonding behavior is by no means restricted to individuals of their own species. They bond with the family cat as well and with us, humans.

Bonding is a natural process that will inevitably happen when individuals share responsibilities. Looking into one another’s eyes is only bonding for a while, but surviving together may be bonding for lifetime—and this applies to all social animals, dogs and humans included.

We develop stronger bonds with our dogs by doing things together rather than by just sitting and petting them. These days, we are so afraid of anything remotely connected with stress that we forget the strongest bonds ever originate under times of intense experiences. A little stress doesn’t harm anyone, quite the contrary. I see it every time I train canine scent detection. The easier it is, the quickest it will be forgotten. A tough nut to crack, on the other hand, is an everlasting memory binding the parties to one another.

I even suspect one of the reasons we have so many divorces these days is that we want everything to be easy and oh so pleasant that in the end, there’s nothing holding the two together—but that’s another story for maybe another time. Meanwhile, ponder and enjoy the photos from the great animal photographer Mark Taylor.

Guinea pig camp tomorrow—time to bond with these loving little creatures.

 

"Ethology" by Roger Abrantes

If animal behavior fascinates you, you will enjoy "Ethology—The Study of Animal Behavior in the Natural Environment," the book and course by ethologist Roger Abrantes.
Enrolling for this course puts you in direct contact with the author to whom you can pose any question while you complete your coursework. Click here to read more and enroll.

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.
 

ChildAndDog

We want to protect them, who need it most, our children and our animals. We want to keep offering "Knowledge to everyone... everywhere," free courses and blogs. Join us, buy "Dogs And Children," book and course, for the cost of a cup of coffee and a muffin. Help us to help them.

 

Can Animals of Different Species Bond like They Were Conspecifics?

Cat And Duck

If you would ask me whether animals of different species can create relationships and bonds similar to those they have with their own conspecifics, I wouldn’t hesitate in answering yes.

One winter morning, when I still lived up north, I looked out of the window and saw a white duck right in the middle of the yard. I almost missed it, so well his white plumage faded into the snowy environment.

Daniel, a teenager at the time, got very excited. “He’s freezing, Daddy, we have to help him,” he exclaimed.

We got warmly dressed, and even before considering eating breakfast, out we went to tend to this stranger in distress. Our presence didn’t frighten the duck, not even when we came closer. He didn’t show either any particular appreciation for the arrival of our rescue party. He must have been tired and terribly cold after having spent the whole night roaming around the frozen fields, and we didn’t hold his lack of courtesy against him.

We found a wooden crate, duck sized, grabbed some straw from the horse’s stall and made him a comfortable refuge near the old water pump. He seemed to like it right away, went inside, tidied it up a bit and lay down like all ducks do with his beak on his back. We offered him food and water, which he didn’t touch and so we left him to recover.

“Fine, so now we can grab some breakfast, don’t you think?” I asked Daniel.

The long and the short of it is that the duck stayed day after day without showing any intention of wanting to leave. We gave him a name, Anders. I don’t know if he also gave us names. The other animals on the farm, horse, cat, dog, took it as it was. No one bothered him and didn’t show much interest either.

I thought he might die when I first saw him, so miserable he looked, but he was a tough duck. Not only did he survive, but he looked healthier and stronger for every day that passed. He also became increasingly assertive.

If we had any apprehensions about whether the other animals would give him a hard time, our doubts quickly dissipated. In fact, it was the other way around. Anders became the king of the farm. He ate everything—horse, cat and dog food equally—and he took what he wanted when he fancied it. He would approach Katarina, the cat, from behind, would peck at her tail and, when she moved away, he would feast on cat food as he pleased.

Indy, the horse, didn’t escape his majesty’s moods either. King Anders would peck at Indy’s hooves until he moved away giving up his horsey pellets for yet a ducky feast.

He would walk around tending to his businesses, whatever businesses ducks have, unconcernedly and much matter-of-factly. The only concern he seemed to have were birds of prey. He would stand very quiet, looking up, holding his head sideways, one eye facing the sky until he rested assured that the bird wouldn’t dive down on him.

It didn’t take long, though, before we all got accustomed to Anders and him to us. I can’t say that he ever bonded particularly with anyone. He was his own. He wasn’t needy either. At the farm, we were supportive of one another if necessary, but we didn’t intrude on the others’ lives, and we weren’t over-protective either. Milou, the dog, would charge out of the door, furiously growling, if she heard that Katarina was in trouble, which she was regularly because the neighborhood tomcats apparently found her too hot and worth risking a sortie into unknown territory. Sometimes, at night, the fox would venture too close and Katarina would be the first to detect her, creating some commotion. Anders would quack and shed feathers all the way up to his safe spot, and Milou would charge forth furiously as the defender of the kingdom, barking and growling, not exactly knowing why, just in case. Indy, the horse, on the other hand, always kept his cool thru out all ordeals. Daniel and I would come last from our rooms on each end of the house, armed with our hockey sticks, more than once meeting one another in the yard only wearing our boxers. I’m happy we lived out in the sticks where nobody could witness our antics!

We had a good life. We didn’t bother one another, shared the space and the resources we had, and we put up with one anothers’ peculiarities. That was what served us all best, I think we all agreed, but I can’t know what the others thought. We were a family, a herd, a clowder, a pack and a brace.

We belonged to different species, but for all intents, except reproduction, we functioned as any well-functioning group of animals of the same species. Thus, if you would ask me whether animals of different species can create relationships and bonds similar to those they have with their own conspecifics, I wouldn’t hesitate in answering yes (all going down to definitions). Did we have any hierarchy? Oh yes, just ask Anders, and it wasn’t in any way unsettling for any of us. It even felt natural and reassuring, I dare say. As long as we all knew what we were supposed to do and not to do, all was good.

I got the habit every morning, right after I got up, to look out of the window and be greeted by Anders. He would invariably be there in the middle of the yard looking at my window, always at the right time. It became a ritual, a reassuring one, I guess, for both of us.

One morning, Anders was nowhere. I knew immediately what had happened. The fox had finally got the better of Anders, the king.

 

CheeringDiploma
Happy Golden
Earn your Diploma in Animal Behavior and Training paying your fees in monthly installments
CPDT: EUR 110 — CACE: EUR 132 — CAAE: EUR 214
Start earning your diploma from Ethology Institute Cambridge, today!
Click here to read more and select your favorite program. Then choose, "pay by installments."

“Life of Pi” — Read the Book, Watch the Movie

I read Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” many years ago. I took the book to bed, my intention being to read 10-12 pages before falling asleep. This was one of the few books I’ve read from one end to the other in one go. I went to sleep at five in the morning.

The other day, I revisited “Life of Pi,” not the book from 2001, but the movie from 2012 directed by Ang Lee with screenplay by David Magee.

The movie gets my five stars. It’s a near perfect screenplay adaptation of a book. It misses a bit of the first part of the book that would be too cumbersome to render in pictures anyway, but it presents the second part magnificently. It’s a beautiful 3D movie, a thrilling adventure, an experience for afterthought—you can take it as you wish.

“Life of Pi,” book and movie, is not intrusive, does not force you to think or accept anything in particular. It leaves you with your freedom to draw your conclusions, or ask your questions, as the case may be.

Take a break, read the book and savor it. Yann Martel succeeded in writing a book that you want to read word by word, not by paragraphs.

Life Of Pi Movie

The following quotations indicate “Part.Chapter.Paragraph.”

“Just beyond the ticket booth Father had painted on a wall in bright red letters the question: DO YOU KNOW WHICH IS THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMAL IN THE ZOO? An arrow pointed to a small curtain. There were so many eager, curious hands that pulled at the curtain that we had to replace it regularly. Behind it was a mirror.” (1.8.4)

The most dangerous animal in the zoo is the human being maybe because of the relationship of danger with unpredictable evil.

“Rank determines whom it can associate with and how; where and when it can eat; where it can rest; where it can drink; and so on. Until it knows its rank for certain, the animal lives a life of unbearable anarchy. It remains nervous, jumpy, dangerous. Luckily for the circus trainer, decisions about social rank among higher animals are not always based on brute force.” (1.13.3)

Here, Pi is (between lines) talking more about human relationships than human-animal relationships, one suspects. He’s also thinking about how to train Richard Parker.  Throughout his misery, Pi comes to see cleverness and willpower as two remarkable human skills, but the question is, do not these skills also bring about evil?

“There are many examples of animals coming to surprising living arrangements. All are instances of that animal equivalent of anthropomorphism: zoomorphism, where an animal takes a human being, or another animal, to be one of its kind.” (1.32.1)

Zoomorphism (in a way, the opposite of anthropomorphism) means that animals treat another species (almost) like their own. Our dogs are great zoomorphists.  This is more philosophical that it may seem and definitely more obscure in the movie than in the book, which, as I’ve mentioned, is more elaborated in its first pre-boat part. One suspects that Pi is talking about his own struggle: Pi the Hindu, Pi the Muslim, and Pi the Christian all in one and the same Pi, not only tolerating one another but living in harmony.

I leave you with one last quote without any comment. Read the book, watch the movie.

“I had to tame him. It was at that moment that I realized this necessity. It was not a question of him or me, but of him and me.” (2.57.8)

As always, I wish you a great day.

 

"Ethology" by Roger Abrantes

If animal behavior fascinates you, you will enjoy "Ethology—The Study of Animal Behavior in the Natural Environment," the book and course by ethologist Roger Abrantes.
Enrolling for this course puts you in direct contact with the author to whom you can pose any question while you complete your coursework. Click here to read more and enroll.