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Dogs Point North-South When They Pee and Poop

Dogs Point North-South

Dogs point North-South when they pee and poop. They use the Earth’s magnetic field when urinating and defecating, aligning their bodies in the N-S axis.

If I wrote this on April 1st, everyone would take that for an April Fool’s prank. It is not. It is the conclusion of a scientific project conducted by Hart et al. and involving researchers from the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences, Czech University of Life Sciences, and the Faculty of Biology, University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany (Hart et al. 2013).

 

Dogs Register Small Variations in Earth’s Magnetic Field

The study concludes dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) register small variations in Earth’s magnetic field after examining the behavior of 70 individuals (28 males and 42 females) belonging to 37 breeds, collected by 37 dog owners/reporters.

The researchers collected data on alignment during defecation (n = 1,893 observations, 55 dogs) and urination (n = 5,582, 59 dogs) from December 2011 through July 2013 in the Czech Republic and in Germany.

Under calm magnetic field conditions, dogs preferred to defecate with their bodies aligned along the north-south axis, even when sometimes facing south. Dogs not only favored N-S but also avoid E-W.

The data shows that larger and faster changes in magnetic conditions result in a random distribution of body alignments, i.e., a lowering of the preferences and ceasing of the avoidances, which may result from the magnetic disturbance or the intentional shutdown of the magnetoreception mechanism.

To avert any bias, all dogs moved in a free-roaming environment, off-lead and not restricted by walls or roads that would influence their movements. The routes of walks changed to exclude or limit pseudo-replication caused by the dogs defecating and urinating in the same few places.

The researchers also excluded the sun, polarized light, and the wind as determining factors for the body alignment of the dogs.

 

No Differences Between Males and Females

The study found no differences in the alignment of males and females during defecation and of the latter during urination. They all assume similar postures during defecation and females’ urination. Urinating males showed slightly different preferences to the females’ choices. The male leg lifting posture, while urinating, could explain these discrepancies.

 

No Answer to Why Dogs Prefer the North-South Axis

We have no answer to why dogs prefer the north-south axis and avoid east-west. It may be intentional, in which case they must perceive the magnetic field with one of their senses (as a haptic stimulus), or maybe they feel more comfortable aligning them in a particular direction (controlled at the vegetative level).

 

New Perspectives

Earlier studies confirmed that the natural fluctuations of the Earth’s magnetic field may disturb orientation in birds, bees, whales, and even affect vegetative functions and behavior in humans.

Studies on the wolves’ (Canis lupus lupus) homing are inconclusive. We cannot rule out the possible influence of an inherent sense of direction. There may be critical periods during a wolf’s life during which specific elements of its environment may imprint on it. In a study, the simplest hypothesis that explained the movement of four wolves was responses to visual, olfactory, and auditory cues with the latter probably being the most important. The wolves seemed driven to return to familiar territory, using the strongest learned exogenous cues (Henshaw and Stephenson 1974). Magnetoreception could have been a homing aid.

The findings of Hart et al. open new perspectives on how organisms use magnetic fields for direction.

References

Begall, S., Malkemper, P., Burda, H. 2014. Magnetoreception in mammals. Advances in the Study of Behavior, 2014. pp 45-79.

Dimitrova, S., Stoilova, I., and Cholakov, I. 2004. Influence of local geomagnetic storms on arterial blood pressure. Bioelectromagnetics 2004, 25:408–414. https://doi.org/10.1002/bem.20009.

Hart V, Malkemper EP, Kušta T, Begall S, Nováková P, Hanzal V, Pleskač L, Ježek M, Policht R, Husinec V, Červený J, Burda H: Directional compass preference for landing in water birds. Frontiers Zool 2013, 10:38. https://doi.org/10.1186/1742-9994-10-38.

Hart, V. et al. 2013. Dogs are sensitive to small variations of the Earth’s magnetic field. Frontiers in Zoology 2013, 10:80.

Henshaw, R.E., and Stephenson, R.O. 1974. Homing in the gray wolf (Canis lupus). J Mammal 1974, 55:234–237.

Southern, W.E. 1978. Orientation Responses of Ring-Billed Gull Chicks: A Re-Evaluation. In Schmidt-Koenig K., Keeton W.T. (eds) Animal Migration, Navigation, and Homing. Proceedings in Life Sciences. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, pp 311-317.

Featured illustration by Anton Antonsen.

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

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Canine Epigenetics

Canine-Epigenetics

Epigenetics [Greek epi– ἐπι- = above, over, on, in addition to] is the study of heritable gene functions that cause stable phenotypic variations without affecting the DNA sequence of the organism.

Conrad Waddington coined the term in 1942 before we knew that DNA was the molecular basis of genes. He proposed that genes are differentially turned on and off by another level of “epigenetic” processes to produce different cells in the developing embryo.

 

Epigenetics, Environment, Phenotypic Plasticity

Behavioral epigenetics studies the role of epigenetics in forming behavior. It seeks to explain how nurture may shape nature. It attempts to provide a framework for understanding how the environment may influence gene expression to produce individual differences in behavior.

However, we must be careful with the term ‘environment’. To a geneticist, the environment is everything that isn’t the cellular environment of the DNA. To a social scientist, the environment catches everything from parental care to the stock market climate. That the cellular environment might be essential for understanding gene expression does not imply that one’s housing conditions have a similar impact.

The environment influences particular changes in gene action. For example, in alligators and specific turtles, egg incubation temperature affects the gene expression defining the sex of the individual. In these cases, the state of the gene passes down through cell divisions within a single organism, but it resets in eggs or sperm most times, so it does not transfer between generations. Thus, the mechanism does not influence evolution. An epigenetic state must carry over into the progeny to have any evolutionary relevance. For instance, molecules that bind to DNA and transfer to the offspring partially control the coat color of mice, Rattus norvegicus.

We must not confuse ‘epigenetics’ with ‘phenotypic plasticity,’ i.e., the capacity of one genotype of producing different phenotypes depending on the environment.

 

Belyayev’s Experiments

Belyayev’s experimented with silver foxes, Vulpes vulpes, which he bred based on a selection for tameness. He tested the animals, gave them a tameness score, and placed them in one of three groups. By the 20th generation, 35 percent of the animals were in the higher class, the ‘elite’ group; and as of 2009, ‘elite foxes’ made up 70 to 80 percent of the population. In addition, the changes in the tame foxes over the generations were not only behavioral but also physiological.

Belayev didn’t prove the effect of epigenetics in domestication. He proved the probability of domestication having occurred through selective breeding. In his own words, “It seems possible that the high frequency of the star mutation is due to strong selection intentionally applied for behavior.” (Belyaev et al. 1981). His experiments are a unique resource for studying the genetics of domestication.

The question of epigenetics goes deeper. Genes controlling plasma glucocorticoids were probably the targets during selection for tameness and the effects showed at all levels from phenotypic parameters to the gene expression of the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), proopiomelanocortin (POMC), and the glucocorticoid receptor (GCR). Trut et al. conclude that “It appears plausible that the phenotypic novelties in the experimental fox population could be due to changes in gene activity, largely in its epigenetic modification.” (Trut et al. 2009).

If environmental conditions prefer a gene expression which parents pass to their progeny, and which, in turn, is more environmental independent than in the previous generation, then we can talk of a genuine epigenetic effect. If it is not, then we are talking about phenotypic plasticity and not epigenetics.

Most epigenetic changes occur only within the course of one individual organism’s lifetime—and that’s it. They can, though, pass to the organism’s offspring (transgenerational epigenetic inheritance). Also, if gene inactivation occurs in a sperm or egg cell that results in fertilization, this epigenetic modification may transfer to the next generation.

 

Conclusions

Do epigenetics make Lamarck right and Darwin wrong? To answer that, we must determine whether usage or selection causes epigenetic effects. Evidence supports the latter. Thus, epigenetic factors are yet another source of heritable natural variation. Darwin would have appreciated it. In fact, in 1868 he cautiously proposed ‘Pangenesis’ to cover the possibility that acquired characters might transfer to the progeny (whereby gemmules passed from somatic to reproductive cells). Modern discoveries seem to confirm that Darwin was right again.

At the time of writing, I have not found conclusive studies showing the effect of epigenetics on canine (Canis lupus familiaris) behavior, although Belyayev’s and subsequent studies make it plausible. I would appreciate if my reader has relevant information that may clarify this topic.

In popular writings appealing to the broad public, epigenetics seems to be everything that is not in the genes. However, that is not the scientific view, one requirement being that an effect is only epigenetic if it impacts the evolution of a trait. Therefore, I would recommend prudence when analyzing any statement claiming ‘epigenetic’ effects. These days, the term ‘epigenetic’ (like ‘quantum’) is prone to arouse the fantasy of quacksalvers.

References

Belyayev, D.K., Ruvinsky, A.O., and Trut, L N. 1981. Inherited activation/inactivation of the star gene in foxes. Journal of Heredity, 72: 264-274.

Chandler, V.L. 2007. Paramutation: from maize to mice. Cell. 128 (4): 641–45. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2007.02.007. PMID 17320501.

Cimarelli, G., Virányi, Z., Turcsán B., Rónai, Z., Sasvári-Székely, M., Bánlaki, Z. 2017. Social Behavior of Pet Dogs Is Associated with Peripheral OXTR Methylation. Front Psychol. 2017 Apr 10;8:549. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00549.

Darwin, C. R. 1868. The variation of animals and plants under domestication. London: John Murray. 1st edition, second issue. Volume 1.

Dias, B.G., & Ressler, K.J. 2014. Parental olfactory experience influences behavior and neural structure in subsequent generations. Nature Neuroscience, 17(1), 89-98. doi: 10.1038/nn.3594.

Dupont C., Armant D.R., Brenner, C.A. 2009. Epigenetics: definition, mechanisms and clinical perspective. Seminars in Reproductive Medicine. 27 (5): 351–57. doi:10.1055/s-0029-1237423. PMC 2791696. PMID 19711245.

Florean, C. 2014. Food that shapes you: how diet can change your epigenome. Science in School, Issue 28.

Hughes, V. 2014. Epigenetics: the sins of the father. Nature, 507, 22-24.

Kaplan, G. 2017. Why is my dog this way, does it matter if we know, and what can we do? IAABC journal.

Pörtt, D., Jung, C. 2017. Is dog domestication due to epigenetic modulation in brain? Dog Behavior. Vol 3, No 2 (2017). ISSN 2421-5678.

Trut, L.N. 1996. Sex ratio in silver foxes: effects of domestication and the star gene. Theor Appl Genet (1996)92:109-115. ISSN
1432-2242.

Trut, L., Oskina, I., and Kharlamova, A. 2009. Animal evolution during domestication: the domesticated fox as a model. Bioessays. 2009 Mar; 31(3): 349–360.

Featured image by Anton Antonsen, photo by Hitdelight.

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Ethology Ethology studies animal behavior in its natural environment. It is one of the fundamental courses in your curriculum. A reliable knowledge of animal behavior is the basis to create a satisfying relationship with any animal we train.

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

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The Function of Champing Behavior

The Function of Champing Behavior

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

There is a pacifying element 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. Initially, the pups connect champing with the appeasement of hunger.

JaneGoodallAndChimp1-768x516

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. Curiously, 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 often use chomping when in the presence of dogs and horses showing some degree of distress.

Featured image: Champing behavior has a pacifying function—attempting to turn an unpleasant situation into a pleasant one.

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Ethology Ethology studies animal behavior in its natural environment. It is one of the fundamental courses in your curriculum. A reliable knowledge of animal behavior is the basis to create a satisfying relationship with any animal we train.

Featured Price: € 168.00 € 89.00

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

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Laughter is the shortest distance…

LaughterSpecies

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.

Featured image: We laugh, but we are not the only ones.

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Ethology Ethology studies animal behavior in its natural environment. It is one of the fundamental courses in your curriculum. A reliable knowledge of animal behavior is the basis to create a satisfying relationship with any animal we train.

Featured Price: € 168.00 € 89.00

 

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

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Should Dog Owners Worry about this Behavior?

AnaLauraDogHoldingArm2

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.

DogMuzzleGrabMarco

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

The function of this behavioris 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).”

WolfAddultMuzzleGrab

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.”

WolfPCubsMuzzleGrab

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

Domestic dogs sometimes approach their owners puffing to them gently with their noses. By grasping them gently around the muzzle, we reaffirm 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.

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.

AnaLauraDogHoldingArm1

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.

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

Why Does My Dog Eat Poop?

WolfCubsDen(MontySoan)

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.

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 lupussharing 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.

Featured image: Canine mothers (in wolves, 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 (Photo by Monty Sloan).

Cultural Differences in Dogs—Our Responsibility

Cultural Differences Dogs

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 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?

Featured image: Dog behavior shows cultural differences across breeds and regions (photo by NewEvolotuion at https://newevolutiondesigns.com/50-free-hd-dog-wallpapers).

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Ethology Ethology studies animal behavior in its natural environment. It is one of the fundamental courses in your curriculum. A reliable knowledge of animal behavior is the basis to create a satisfying relationship with any animal we train.

Featured Price: € 168.00 € 89.00

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

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Why Do Dogs Eat Poop?—an Evolutionary Approach

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 Greek: τάξις 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 lupussharing 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.

Featured image: 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.

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 an opponent’s aggressive or dominant behavior.

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

The muzzle nudge is a typical canine behavior: one individual nudges the sides of the mouth of another. It may elicit regurgitation when accompanied by licking. That is how infantile canines taste their first fast food.

Regurgitation behavior is shown by adult canines when they vomit recently consumed food right in front of youngsters. It may occur voluntarily, though often it is the muzzle nudge of the youngsters that triggers it. Their mother is the first to regurgitate for them, but other members of the pack may also join in.

CanineMuzzleGrabRegurgitation2

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 nudge later assumes 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. They may direct their muzzle nudge toward any part of our body, most often though toward our face and hands. They may also attempt to lick us.

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 (wild and domestic) 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 the variation, intensity and the individuals concerned.

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

The pictures on these pages how the Husky yawning (pacifying behavior) and the little dog pawing it (yet a pacifying behavior) while 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 the size 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 adult’s mouth.

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 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 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.

Featured image: 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 (photos by unknown; if you’re the photographer, please let us know as we would like to give you due credit).

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Do Dogs Show Cultural Differences?

Pit Bull Cultural Differences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EthologyCourse