The Function of Champing Behavior

Dogs Champing And Yawning

Champing behavior has a pacifying function—attempting to turn an unpleasant situation into a pleasant one. The dog to the left champs while the one to the right yawns.

Champing (or chomping) is a noisy chewing motion, despite there being nothing to chew. This behavior is connected with friendliness, pacifying of an opponent, insecurity, or submission depending on degree and context.

There is an element of pacifying behavior in all forms of champing. Pacifying behavior (Latin pacificare, from pax = peace and facere, facio = to make) is all behavior with the function of decreasing or suppressing an opponent’s aggressive or dominant behavior or restoring a state of tranquility. Licking, nose poking, muzzle nudging, pawing, yawning, and twisting are common pacifying behaviors that dogs offer one another and us. Champing is a behavior widely used by canines in situations ranging from mild unease to more severe concern.

Champing is one of the first sounds that puppies hear—their sibling’s suckling. It is, therefore, a sound associated with satisfaction. Redirection of the champing behavior assumes later a pacifying function—attempting to turn an unpleasant situation into a pleasant one. The pups originally connect champing with the appeasement of hunger.

Jane Goodall And Chimp 1

Jane Goodall used to break a branch and pretend to chomp on it to pacify chimpanzees showing some unease (photo by Derek Bryceson/National Geographic Creative).

Champing is a straightforward and efficient way to show friendliness towards a dog. In fact, this behavior appears to have a relaxing effect on most mammals. Newborn mammals suckle and connect sucking sounds (chomping) with pleasant and desirable consequences. Jane Goodall points out that she used to break a twig and pretend to champ it to pacify chimpanzees showing some unease. I use chomping often when in the presence of dogs and horses showing some kind of distress.

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Laughter is the shortest distance…

 

Laughter

We laugh, but we are not the only ones.

As you have figured out by now, I enjoy finding proof that humans are not that different from other forms of life. We share many characteristics with the other living creatures on our blue planet. Today, I have one more example for you—laughter.

Laughing is an involuntary reaction in humans consisting of rhythmical contractions of the diaphragm and other parts of the respiratory system. External stimuli, like being tickled, mostly elicit it. We associate it primarily with joy, happiness, and relief, but fear, nervousness, and embarrassment may also cause it. Laughter depends on early learning and cultural factors.

The study of humor and laughter is called gelotology (from the Greek gelos, γέλιο, meaning laughter).

Chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, and orangutans display laughter-like behavior when wrestling, playing or tickling. Their laughter consists of alternating inhalations and exhalations that sound to us like breathing and panting.

Rats display long, high frequency, ultrasonic vocalizations during play and when tickled. We can only hear these chirping sounds with proper equipment. They are also ticklish, as are we. Particular areas of their body are more sensitive than others. There is an association between laughter and pleasant feelings. Social bonding occurs with the human tickler, and the rats can even become conditioned to seek the tickling.*

A dog’s laughter sounds similar to a regular pant. A sonograph analysis of this panting behavior shows that the variation of the bursts of frequencies is comparable with the laughing sound. When we play this recorded dog-laughter to dogs in a shelter, it can contribute to promoting play, social behavior, and decrease stress levels.*

Victor Borge once said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” Maybe, it is simply the shortest distance between any two living creatures.

__________

* Panksepp & Burgdorf, 2003, ‘Laughing’ rats and the evolutionary antecedents of human joy?; Simonet, Versteeg & Storie, 2005, Dog-laughter: Recorded playback reduces stress related behavior in shelter dogs.

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Should Dog Owners Worry about this Behavior?

Dog grabs arm.

A moment of social interaction: human uses her hand and dog uses its mouth. This is not a dog bite. Photo: Ana Laura Chavez.

The muzzle grasp is an interesting behavior that 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 behaviors, which developed and evolved because it conferred a higher fitness to those who practiced it.

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

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

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 more insecure individual does 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 does not tend to be serious, just a low-key challenge, usually 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).”

Muzzle grab in adult wolves (photo by Monty Sloan).

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

When used as a means of settling a dispute, a muzzle grasp looks more violent and usually ends with the muzzle-grasped individual showing what we ethologists call passive submissive behavior, i.e. lying 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 in any way. 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.”

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

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 our acceptance of 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.

Puppy Biting

Mouthing and biting are not even remotely related to the muzzle grab behavior. This photo shows clearly puppy play behavior, and yet it is biting. We should teach the puppy right away that this is not acceptable behavior (photo by unknown).

At times, the dog may even grasp our hand or our arm lightly with its mouth. That is not mouthing or biting at all. It’s a derivative of the nose puffing behavior, and it has the same function. We see a similar behavior between closely related adult dogs and pups and dogs that know one another very well. It is an invitation to interaction, bonding, and maybe a muzzle grasp. Again, pull your hand or arm gently away from the dog’s mouth, muzzle-grasp it for a little while, make a few chomping sounds and yawn. Speaking dog language helps promote an understanding between our dogs and us. It may make us look silly at times, but who cares? I don’t—do you?

The behavior of grasping our hands is under control of what Lorenz called “bite inhibition.”* Bite inhibition is the behavior displayed by a dog (and also other carnivores like the cat) when it restrains itself from biting an opponent although it would be easy for it to do so. In such a situation, most dogs will limit themselves to grasping the opponent without causing damage.

Dog holding arm.

This behavior is not biting. It is a derivative of the muzzle-grasp behavior and it functions as pacifying behavior. Photo: Ana Laura Chavez.

Biting and mouthing are quite different behaviors. They are more forceful and challenging than the grasping of your hand as an invitation to a moment of affection, and we should not reinforce these behaviors at all.

In conclusion: dogs don’t have hands, and so they use their mouths to perform some of the functions for which primates use their hands. Hands can be aggressive and forceful as well as gentle and affectionate and so can canine mouths. We must not be blind to the subtleties of behavior. Life is not black-and-white—rather more of a rainbow, I’d say.

* Lorenz, K. (1949). King Solomon’s Ring (PDF). Routledge. Retrieved 2014-10-28.

"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.

Why Does My Dog Eat Poop?

Disgusted Dog

Disgusted Dog? (photo from Pinterest).

Why do dogs eat their own poop? That’s an interesting question and I find on the Internet one horrendous explanation after the other, which the authors could avoid with a 101 course in Evolution. Even scarier is to read some rebuttals of perfectly scientifically valid accounts because of blatant ignorance.

That is why we offer our course ‘Evolution’ free of charge.

Wolf Cubs At The Den

Canine mothers (wolf, African wild dogs and domestic dogs) eat their puppies poop when they are still in the den. The function of this behavior is to keep the den fairly clean, free of parasites, and probably also odor free.

I will give you now two examples of how a bit knowledge of evolutionary biology can help you analyze statements and avoid making claims that don’t make sense or are very unlikely to be true.

Why does my dog eat its own poop? Here are some popular answers I found on the net.

Explanation 1: The dog knows that fewer predators will pay it any attention if there is no evidence of his having been around.

Is this probable? First, adult canines in nature are not particularly predated by any other species. They tend to defecate where that can, sometimes even using it to scent mark their territory, which is anything but concealing it. The only occasion where this occurs is when canine mothers eat their puppies’ feces while they are still in the den. The function of this behavior is to keep the den reasonably clean, free of parasites, and probably also odor free. Evolutionarily, those that didn’t do it suffered more cases of their progeny succumbing to disease. It might also have reduced the scent signature of the den helping it remaining concealed, but again that would only have been an advantage where predators with a reasonable sense of smell would share the same environment. It might have been beneficial for the Canis lupus lupus sharing their environment with bears (family Ursidae).

Conclusion: it is unlikely that dogs eat their poop to conceal their whereabouts from predators except for mothers consuming their puppies’ feces.

Explanation 2: He (the dog) knows that removing the evidence means no punishment for inappropriate elimination.

Is this probable? To be true, it requires that the dog associates the feces with the punishment. How probable is it that the dog associates its act of defecation with the punishment from the owner arriving at the scene maybe 1-8 hours later? Natural selection has favored associations broadly spaced in time, but only for vital functions, like eating poisonous substances. There is evidence that the organism retains a kind of memory of anything that made it sick even occurring many hours later. However, we cannot envisage any situation in which it would be unconditionally and evolutionarily advantageous for an animal to associate defecating with a non-lethal punishment inflicted by some other animal. Natural selection would only favor it if its achieved benefits would exceed its costs grossly. It is true that insecure animals tend to keep a low profile, also restricting their urination and defecation to less-prominent locations, but not by eating it.

Conclusion: it is definitely possible to condition an association between feces and punishment, but I doubt we can teach any dog to eat its feces to avoid punishment. There is no evidence that eating own poop has been evolutionarily advantageous.

When analyzing a behavior, the evolutionary biologist asks: (1) what condition in the environment would favor the development of such a trait, (2) what conditions would favor its propagation into the population, (3) do the benefits of such a trait outweigh its costs both short and long-term?

Why do dogs eat their own poop, then? I have found a few plausible explanations but none conclusive, yet. Therefore, my answer must be, “I don’t know.” You may need to around. You are, now, in a better situation than earlier to evaluate any answer you may get because you know how to analyze an argument from an evolutionary point of view.

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Cultural Differences in Dogs—Our Responsibility

Dogs snarling

Dog behavior shows cultural differences from one area to the other (photo by Warren Photography at http://www.warrenphotographic.co.uk).

 

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. An extreme example: to behave rationally is not normal among humans since most people behave irrationally.

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 Mountains in Italy to assist Luigi Boitani and Erik Zimen with their wolf research. The Italian wolves howled with an accent (or so did the Americans).

Natural selection determines 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.

Cultural differences in dogs are easy to spot when one travels as much around the world, as I do. It still surprises me, for example, to see that European English Cocker Spaniels or Bichon Havaneses are so very different from their American counterparts—and not only physically, also behaviorally—same breeds, different cultures.

A culture develops according to the influence of the particular individuals in a group and in their distinct environment. The unique characteristics of the individuals and the environment determine the cultural development. In dogs, we are the most influential environmental factor. Therefore, the same original breeds develop variants depending on the human group with which they interact. Apparently, we create the various canine cultures. The question is whether we do it intentionally or unintentionally.

In a sense, we can say that we have the dogs we deserve. We have created them, either by planning to breed them to achieve specific results or by not caring at all—which amounts to the same in this context. The problem is that cultures evolve, our societies change and so do our needs and requirements—which is fair enough. What does not seem fair to me, is to impose new (cultural) requirements upon the dog, a species we have created to fulfill our different (cultural) needs by then. Of course, we change and so do our dogs. We can change them so they can fulfill new necessities but it requires a well-planned breeding program based on reasonable expectations and scientifically sound methods.

What do you think?

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Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?—an Evolutionary Approach

Wolf Cubs At The Den

Canine mothers (wolf, African wild dogs and domestic dogs) eat their puppies poop when they are still in the den. The function of this behavior is to keep the den fairly clean, free of parasites, and probably also odor free.

 

Why do dogs eat their own poop? I’ll come back to this question, but allow me an introduction which I think might be relevant for your further studies of behavior. I believe that a little more knowledge about evolution and the processes that bring traits about, including behavior, would reduce drastically the number of erroneous explanations of the behavior of our pets. It would also spell the end of many old wives’ tales

I find on the Internet one horrendous explanation after the other, which the authors could avoid with a 101 course in Evolution. Even scarier is to read some rebuttals of perfectly scientifically valid accounts because of blatant ignorance.

That is why we offer our course ‘Evolution’ free of charge. Our students are doing very well. They have taken the test 753 times since Darwin’s birthday last year (February 12). Students try to take tests several times. We discovered that they took (and take) tests like they play computer games, which is perfectly all right. While playing, they learn. Therefore, the records show an alarming 55% of failed tests (412 tests) because many do attempt to take the test without reading the book. In the end, 86% have passed evolution. That is good (and this figure will be even better, closer to 100%) because those who failed are still attempting to pass—to win the game). 42 students (6%) have even scored 100% correct answers, which is brilliant (and difficult).

So, knowledge to everyone everywhere is working—and congratulations to our students. You are the brave ones creating a new world with the help of knowledge—not the sword.

The following questions are those that our students find more difficult. Here’s some help for you.

  • Natural selection acts on the _________.  Only 48% answer correctly. Yes, natural selection acts upon the phenotype, not the genotype. Recently, epigenetics have uncovered that the environment can act upon the way genes manifest themselves, but this is the exception, not the rule.
  • A _______ is a taxonomic level, one of the basic units of classifying living organisms. 56% answer species, which is correct. Most of the wrong answers are cell. A cell is a basic unit, but not at taxonomic level. I guess what tricks you here is the word taxonomic. Taxonomy (from Ancient Greekτάξις taxis, arrangement, and νομία nomia, method) is the description, identification, nomenclature, and classification of organisms. 
  • Natural selection is a random process. 57% answer no, which is correct. I think what confuses the others, who answer yes, is that mutations happen at random. However, whether these mutations confer an advantage or not, is not a random process. It’s still under the sharp scrutiny of the survival of the fittest algorithm. Natural selection is not a random process.
  • Artificial speciation (caused by human intervention) is just one particular case of speciation due to ____________ selection, not an exception. 46% answer natural selection, which is correct. In popular language, we call artificial in nature everything that is human made. However, humans are also part of nature and, therefore, their impact on other organisms is part of the same universal process—it is as natural as the influence of any predator on its prey.

I will give you now two examples of how a bit knowledge of evolutionary biology can help you analyze statements and avoid making claims that don’t make sense or are very unlikely to be true.

Why does my dog eat its own poop? That is a common question that I have been asked many times. Here are some popular answers.

Explanation 1: The dog knows that fewer predators will pay it any attention if there is no evidence of his having been around.

Is this probable? First, adult canines in nature are not particularly predated by any other species. They tend to defecate where that can, sometimes even using it to scent mark their territory, which is anything but concealing it. The only occasion where this occurs is when canine mothers eat their puppies’ feces while they are still in the den. The function of this behavior is to keep the den reasonably clean, free of parasites, and probably also odor free. Evolutionarily, those that didn’t do it suffered more cases of their progeny succumbing to disease. It might also have reduced the scent signature of the den helping it remaining concealed, but again that would only have been an advantage where predators with a reasonable sense of smell would share the same environment. It might have been beneficial for the Canis lupus lupus sharing their environment with bears (family Ursidae).

Conclusion: it is unlikely that dogs eat their poop to conceal their whereabouts from predators except for mothers consuming their puppies’ feces.

Explanation 2: He (the dog) knows that removing the evidence means no punishment for inappropriate elimination.

Is this probable? To be true, it requires that the dog associates the feces with the punishment. How probable is it that the dog associates its the act of defecation with the punishment from an owner arriving at the scene maybe 1-8 hours later? Natural selection has favored associations broadly spaced in time, but only for vital functions, like eating poisonous substances. There is evidence that the organism retains a kind of memory of anything that made it sick even occurring many hours later. However, we cannot envisage any situation in which it would be unconditionally and evolutionarily advantageous for an animal to associate defecating with a non-lethal punishment inflicted by some other animal. Natural selection would only favor it if the achieved benefits exceeded its costs grossly. It is true that insecure animals tend to keep a low profile, also restricting their urination and defecation to less-prominent locations, but not by eating it.

Conclusion: it is definitely possible to condition an association between feces and punishment, but I doubt we can teach any dog to eat its feces to avoid punishment. There is no evidence that eating own poop has been evolutionarily advantageous.

When analyzing a behavior, the evolutionary biologist asks: (1) what condition in the environment would favor the development of such a trait, (2) what conditions would favor its propagation into the population, (3) do the benefits of such a trait outweigh its costs both short and long term?

Why do dogs eat their own poop, then? I don’t know. You may need to ask a vet, and now you are in a better situation than earlier to evaluate any answer you may get because you know how to analyze an argument from an evolutionary point of view.

Enjoy your studies.

 

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Canine Muzzle Nudge, Muzzle Grasp and Regurgitation Behavior

The canine muzzle nudge is a pacifying behavior. Pacifying behavior (Latin pacificare, from pax = peace and facere, facio = to make) is all behavior with the function of decreasing or suppressing and opponenent’s aggressive or dominant behavior.

Newborn cubs and pups nudge their mother’s tits to find a nipple and suckle the maternal milk, which is their only nutrition by then. The nudging, achieving the desired result, becomes imprinted in their memories. Later, they will nudge frequently when attempting to achieve something they want or to turn an unpleasant situation into a pleasant one.

 

Canine Muzzle Grab Regurgitation 1

The husky shows yawning, a common canine pacifying behavior. The little dog shows pawing, also a common pacifying behavior, and the beginning of poking to the sides of the mouth, which has the function of eliciting regurgitation.

 
The muzzle nudge is the behavior of a canine nudging another’s sides of the mouth. This behavior, particularly when accompanied by licking, tends to elicit regurgitation. That is the way infantile canines taste their first fast food.

Regurgitation behavior is the behavior shown by adult canines when they vomit food recently consumed, usually right in front of cubs or pups. This behavior may occur unsolicitedly, though as a rule it is triggered by the muzzle nudge of the youngsters. Usually, their mother is the first to regurgitate for them, but other members of the pack also join in occasionally.

The muzzle nudge assumes later a ritualized function as a pacifying behavior. Insecure or slightly fearful individuals will muzzle nudge their opponents showing them their friendly intentions. Our dogs will muzzle nudge us in many situations when they feel unsafe, somewhat pressured or just in need of being reassured. Their muzzle nudge may be directed toward any part of our body, most often though toward our face and hands. They may also attempt to lick us.

 

Canine Muzzle Grab Regurgitation 2

The little dog sticks its head in the mouth of the Husky. This is a variation of the original regurgitation eliciting behavior. Later, poking to sides of mouth become a fairly common pacifying behavior.

The muzzle grasp behavior may have its origins in the muzzle nudge and regurgitation. Adults muzzle grasp youngsters, which often invite them to perform this ritual. Canine mothers use a version of this behavior to prevent their youngsters from suckling at the time of weaning. Higher-ranking canines in a pack use another version of this behavior to make a point as to claiming a resource. In all cases, this behavior causes no harm and injury. The muzzle grasp is not an aggressive behavior. It ranges from pacifying to self-confident and dominant behavior depending on variation, intensity and the individuals concerned.

Muzzle nudge, muzzle grasp, and regurgitation are connected. They share the common element of originating in the satisfaction of a primary need (food acquisition). They all involve some sort of nudging, and they are centered around the mouth of the adults.

The pictures on this page show the Husky yawning (pacifying behavior) and the little dog pawing it (yet a pacifying behavior) while being very attentive to its mouth. On the second picture, the pup, not only nudges and licks the sides of the mouth of the adult, but it also sticks its head in. This is rare and due to the difference is sizes of the dogs. It is not uncommon, though, for the nudging and licking to become so intense that the youngster sticks its nose in the mouth of the adult.

Although not as common as in nature, some of our domestic dogs also show the regurgitation behavior when given the opportunity. They will regurgitate not only toward their puppies but also toward unrelated puppies. This behavior has nothing to do with nervousness, agitation or illness as erroneously assumed by many dog owners. It is a vestige of a behavior our dogs inherited from their ancestors when feeding the pups was a highly crucial trait and favored by natural selection.

The muzzle nudge behavior shows friendliness. A dog displaying an unsolicited muzzle nudge too often may be a dog feeling insecure and in need of comfort.

The muzzle grasp is a social behavior. It is one of those behaviors favored by natural selection for its essential functions and effectiveness. It is common in pacifying rituals often at the invitation of the more vulnerable individual. It is also in the repertoire of an individual to claim a resource (showing its dominant behavior in that situation). Our dogs may welcome us to muzzle grasp them as a bonding activity. The canine muzzle grasp and our gentle grasping the muzzle of our dog has nothing to do with the brutal grabbing of the dog by the muzzle as some dog owners do when venting their frustration.

Muzzle nudge, muzzle grasp, and regurgitation behavior may assume many variations depending on the individuals involved, context, environment, etc. Behavior if a continuum and except for tropisms and simple reflexes, it is highly individualized. Natural selection favors behaviors that tend to be advantageous in the struggle for survival and reproduction.

 

Related blogs

"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.

Canine Muzzle Grasp Behavior—Advanced Dog Language

 

Muzzle grab in adult wolves (photo by Monty Sloan).

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

 

The muzzle grasp is an interesting behavior that 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 behaviors, which 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 more insecure individual does 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 does not tend to be serious, just a low-key challenge, usually 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).”

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

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

When used as a means of settling a dispute, a muzzle grasp looks more violent and usually 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 in any way. 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.”

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

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 our acceptance of 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 at times, but who cares? I don’t, do you?

 

"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.

Does Your Dog Show Allelomimetic Behavior?

 

Howling Dogs.

Howling is allelomimetic behavior.

I’m sure your dog shows allelomimetic behavior, but don’t worry, it’s not dangerous, except when it is, and yes, it is contagious. Confused? Keep reading.

Allelomimetic behavior is doing the same as others do. Some behaviors have a strong probability of influencing others to show the same behavior. Animals keeping in constant contact with one another will inevitably develop allelomimetic behavior.

Dogs show various instances of allelomimetic behavior—walking, running, sitting, lying down, getting up, sleeping, barking and howling have a strong probability of stimulating others to do the same.

Social predators increase their rate of hunting success when they function in unison. One individual setting after the prey is likely to trigger the same response in the whole group.

Allelomimetic behavior.

More often than we think, it is our own behavior that triggers our dog’s allelomimetic behavior (photo by SunVilla).

The wolf’s howl is allelomimetic, one more behavior our domestic dogs share with their wild cousins. Howling together functions as social bonding. When one wolf begins howling, the whole pack usually joins in chorus, especially if a high-ranking wolf has initiated it. I bet that if you go down on your knees, turn your head up, and begin howling, (provided you are a half-decent howler) your dog will join you in chorus; then, it will attempt to demonstrate its team spirit by licking your face.

Sleeping and eating are good examples of allelomimetic behavior. Dogs and cats tend to sleep and eat at the same time. Barking is also contagious. One barking dog will easily set the whole neighborhood’s dogs barking.

Synchronizing behavior may be a life saver. In prey animals like deer, zebra or wildebeest, one individual has the ability to trigger the whole herd to flee. This trait is so important for self-preservation that farm animals like sheep, cows and horses still retain it. Grazing also tends to occur at the same time.

Allelomimetic behavior.

Running after a running child is more often an example of canine allelomimetic behavior than hunting or herding as many dog owners erroneously presume.

Allelomimetic behavior is not restricted to animals of the same species. Animals of different species who live together show allelomimetic behavior regularly. Dogs are good body language readers and tend to respond to certain behaviors of their owners without needing further instruction. An alerted owner triggers his dog’s alertness more often than the opposite.

Puppies begin to show allelomimetic behavior at about five weeks of age. It is an intrinsic part of your dog’s behavior to adjust to the behavior of its companions. Your behavior influences your dog behavior in many more instances than you realize.

Since we have selected and bred our dogs to be highly sociable and socially promiscuous, they tend to show extended allelomimetic behavior, not only copying the behavior of their closest companions, but of others as well. Next time you walk in the park and your dog runs after running children, you can casually comment, “Typical instance of allelomimetic behavior.” Not that it will solve any problem, if there is one, but you’ll be right and I bet you will impress more than a few of your fellow park walkers.

 

"Ethology" by Roger Abrantes

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Why Do Dogs Like to Lick Our Faces?

Dog Licking Girl Face

When a dog tries to lick your face, the best you can do is to close your eyes, yawn and turn your head away. This shows in dog language that you accept its offer of friendship.

Dogs like to lick our faces, a behavior that seems disturbing for many dog owners and particularly non-dog owners. However, this behavior is a demonstration of friendliness, a pacifying gesture, a hand (though not literally) reaching for peace. It’s a compliment in dog language: “I like you; you can be my friend.”

The behavior originates in the neonatal and juvenile periods. Newborn suckle and lick. A bit older pups lick everything as a way of gathering information about their world. Licking our faces may give our dogs much more information than we can imagine about who we are and how we feel.

Pups lick one another, a behavior which seems to make both donor and recipient relax because it is an undemanding activity. Grooming and self-grooming, which also include licking, are pleasant and bonding practices as well.

Canine mothers lick their pups to keep them clean and to stimulate their urination, defecation, and maybe even digestion.

When the pups become a little older and begin eating solid food, it is common for them to lick the lips of the adults, a behavior which should elicit their regurgitation of food recently consumed, a good source of nutrition for the youngsters. Even though not as widespread as when Canis lupus familiaris were mainly hunters, this regurgitation behavior is not uncommon among our more scavenger like domestic dogs if we give them the opportunity to live a relatively independent dog life.

Friendly Wolf Behavior

Roger Abrantes and wolf at the Wolf Park in Battle Ground, Indiana. Licking is one of the many behaviors dogs and wolves have in common. It signals friendship (picture by Monty Sloan).

Pacifying behavior is, for the most, behavior that originally has essential survival and well-being functions, and later shows these same functions, though in different areas and with different outcomes. For example: licking produced food regurgitation, licking produces friendly behavior.

Next time a dog licks your face, you do not need to be too terrified or disgusted. Just close your eyes, yawn, and turn your head away. That shows in dog language that you accept its offer of friendship.

By the way, don’t be too afraid either of the germs you may get when your dog licks you—they are not worse than those we get from kissing one another.

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Animal Training My Way—The Merging of Ethology and Behaviorism by Roger Abrantes.
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