fbpx

A Dog’s Self-Respect

petrinebirdretrievebw

Did she cheat me? Did she manipulate me? Was it a proof that my English Cocker Spaniel had a sense of self-respect, that dogs behave intelligently?

It happened long ago, but I still think about it, trying to find a plausible and scientifically correct explanation. My dogs have always been fun dogs, independent and skillful, but manipulative and naughty at the same time. It’s my fault. I’ve brought them up to be that way. I trained them because at the time (the beginning of the 1980s) I was keen on demonstrating that there were other ways of training dogs than the traditional, mostly compulsory and often forceful methods of the old school. Since I believed (and still do) that the best way to have someone change is not by forcing, persuading or convincing, but rather by showing attractive results, I trained my dogs to help me in this quest, and none more than Petrine, my female, red English Cocker Spaniel did so.

At the time, there was a very popular dog training series on TV called “No Bad Dogs the Woodhouse Way” with the unforgettable Barbara Woodhouse. Those of a certain age will chuckle nostalgically when they hear inimitable “walkies.” Mrs. Woodhouse, born in 1910, was a charming, efficient lady who loved animals. She was not mean; it was just her methods that were forceful to say the least. Does this sound familiar? History repeats itself, as we well know!

Instead of attacking her and her methods personally, or trying to argue for ways I thought were better, I found a more convenient strategy: to channel the interest in dog training that Mrs. Woodhouse generated and present my own way as an alternative. Of course, I had to show results. I had to be able to teach the dogs the same Mrs. Woodhouse so efficiently taught them. If I was successful, and my methods were not only as efficient but more attractive, they would win the public’s favor. If I couldn’t achieve the same results as her, my way would not win. I went for it, confident that I could make dogs as “obedient” as Mrs. Woodhouse did, but using my own methods. To allow for an obvious comparison, I even used the terminology of the time, which I later felt entitled to change when my first book came out in 1984: from there on a “command” became a “signal,” “obedience” became “cooperation,” and “praise” became a “reinforcer.”

So, Petrine and I did a lot of “obedience” training, even if we weren’t too keen on the fastidiousness of the process. We trained using motivation, treats, facial expressions as reinforcers, the word “dygtig,” later to be called a semi-conditioned verbal reinforcer, and sometimes a whistle as a conditioned positive reinforcer (the precursor of the clicker); and together we won several obedience competitions.

At the time, you didn’t see many Cockers competing, and our victories did help to prove my point, but our achievements weren’t exactly a big surprise. They were more like appetizers. What really did it was when we won a hunting-dog competition. That caused quite some stir in the dog-training community of that time because we beat all the smart, green clad hunters with their pointers and the like. At the time, it was unthinkable that an English Cocker Spaniel (not only red, but female too!) and a longhaired, bearded, young fellow (in worn-out Levi’s and clogs just to top it off) could beat the establishment. Well, we did! That day of fame and infamy set me on a career path I could never have imagined. Training in a new way, the “psychology rather than power” way rather than the Woodhouse way, we made it into newspapers, magazines, TV and radio, and to be on TV was a big thing at the time. Inevitably, we were heroes for some and villains for others, but my message had been conveyed as the first edition of my first book, entitled (of course) “Psychology Rather Than Power,” which showed a completely different way of training dogs based on ethology and the scientific principles of animal learning, sold out in three months. It was a victory for psychology rather than power in more than one way, as it also proved my point that showing results works better than arguing, persuading, convincing or forcing.

Petrine was indeed an amazing dog. She taught me most of the important things I know about dogs, but she also taught me about life, respect and affection. As I said before, I trained her because it was necessary, but I must confess that I never liked the training as much as the interaction. Training was definitely secondary to having a good relationship. Therefore, I always encouraged and reinforced any behavior that showed initiative, independence, and her resolving problems her own way. This was (and is) my philosophy of education for any species. I think of my job as an educator as like being a travel guide, providing my students with opportunities to develop, to learn how to deal with their environment, to stand out from the crowd and not be just a self-denigrating face, but to make of themselves whatever they choose. If my dogs found ways to circumvent the rules and succeeded (that is what I call good canine argumentation and reasoning), I would reinforce that even at my own cost. In other words: I have always reinforced sound argumentation and conclusions consistent with their premises, even though they might have gone against my wishes and, as the good sportsman, my father educated me to be, when a better opponent on a better day beats me, I accept defeat gracefully. I applied the same philosophy to the education of my son.

When Daniel was little, we traveled a lot together. I always thought traveling, experiencing other ways of thinking and having other stances on life were good antidotes to narrow-mindedness and all that comes with it. On one occasion, we arrived at a guesthouse after a long journey and Daniel, by then about 9 or 10 years old and already an experienced traveler, quickly assessed the situation.

“OK, we have only one little bed,” he said.

“Yes, so I see,” I replied, whilst removing my heavy backpack, trying not to lose the car keys or spill our cokes.

“I have 50% of your genes, and when I have kids, they’ll have 25% of your genes, right?” he asked rhetorically.

“For sure,” I said, amazed at what a kid could learn just by accompanying his daddy to talks and seminars whilst quietly drawing pictures at the back of the room.

“So if you want me to pass 25% of your silly genes to my kids, you have to take good care of me, right?” again a rhetorical question.

“Yes, absolutely,” I answered.

“OK, so I take the bed, and you sleep on the floor,” he concluded.

I slept on the floor.

Petrine, the red, female English Cocker Spaniel was indeed one of a kind. I remember one day I had decided to invite guests for dinner and prepared a roast beef to serve them. It was no mean feat considering my extremely limited culinary skills. I was in the living room surveying the table when I glanced towards the kitchen, and my eyes registered a sight that caused instant paralysis of every muscle in my body, including my jaw, which gaped open as I recollect.

Next to the kitchen table, where I had placed the fruit of my hard labor, the once-in-a-lifetime masterpiece, my roast beef, stood Petrine. That in itself is not reason enough to make me stop breathing and incite a serious and irreversible heart-attack you may think, and you’re right, but add to that Petrine holding my roast beef in her mouth and I think you will begin to understand the cause of my instant, full body paralysis. For a moment that seemed interminable, we stood there looking at one another, me, drop-jawed and paralyzed from head to toe, and Petrine with her deep brown eyes staring at me intensely, roast beef in mouth.

If I was paralyzed, Petrine certainly was not. She began to walk towards me with a swift, self-confident, elegant pace, not once averting her gaze from mine. I merely stared in disbelief at her approach with the roast beef. Without stopping, she trotted around me in a perfectly calculated circle and sat right next to my left leg, lifting her head and the roast beef towards me, her eyes still fixed on mine.

I think I took longer to react than I normally would on this type of occasion, but I managed to bend down, take hold of the dummy (read roast-beef) and give the signal “Tak” (read release). I know I managed it because I remember trying to wipe away Petrine’s teeth marks from the roast beef and placing it on a plate on the table ready to serve to my guests. I also remember that, even though my paralysis had only been momentary, my brain was still not fully functioning, as the next I heard was a barely perceptible whine from Petrine. I looked down to find her gazing up at me, wagging her tail and all lower body as cockers do. She was right, and it was good of her to remind me. I was failing in my duties. “Free,” I said, and, as swiftly, as elegantly and as self-confidently as she had brought the roast beef to me, she went off to perform some other of her daily chores. It had all been just another episode among the many life presents us with. No more, no less— or so it seemed to her.

It was only once the guests had gone, the kitchen tidy and Daniel in bed that, sitting on my porch and enjoying a well-deserved glass of Portuguese “vinho verde,” I cast my mind back to the Petrine episode. What had been going on?

As I told you, my philosophy of education encourages determination and reasoning, and Petrine was good at that. She realized that she had been caught in the act. She had several options: one, to drop the roast beef and show submissive behavior (active and/or passive), which would have been accompanied by a “Phooey” from me, an ugly face and a very assertive tone of voice; two, to scoff as much of the roast beef as she could before I caught her, which wouldn’t have taken long considering I was no more than 6 meters (20 feet) away; three, to run with the roast beef, which she could have done, but I would inevitably have caught up with her. And, of course, she also had the option that she chose, which is not one I would have thought of myself. Why did she choose that option? All things considered, I believe it was the best option open to her, but what went through her head when she chose to do so, I would pay a handsome fee to know for sure.

None of my (attempted) scientific explanations succeeds in convincing me fully. Having been caught would produce the “phooey” and ugly face, she knew perfectly well. Being the self-confident individual she was, I have no doubt she hated any “phooey.” That I could see clearly from her expression on the few occasions, I had had to use it. She had been brought up to think for herself, to be imaginative and creative, and to believe in herself, not to be a pitiful dog waiting for her master’s voice before daring to blink.

If Petrine had rejected “phooey” as an unacceptable means of solving the conundrum, the only way to come out of it without losing face was to do what she did. She actually controlled the situation. If it is true that I could trigger her retrieving behavior (and that, combined with searching, was our best game in the whole wide world), by just assuming any position remotely resembling the game, so too could she trigger my behavior, my part in the game. That, she did indeed. She showed me a perfect retrieve, and put me in my role in the game. “Your line, now,” she said to me, clearly and emphatically without even the need of words. Like an experienced actor playing a Shakespearian part, I reacted promptly to my cue.

If a behavior repeated often with fairly predictable consequences creates moods (Pavlovian conditioning) in all of us, independently of species, which seems to be the case, I have no doubt that she associated the retrieve game with the most pleasure she could have in life. When in trouble, we have a tendency to perform behaviors that previously have brought us success, pleasure. This is a reassuring procedure, the basis even for stereotyped behaviors according to some. It is an organism’s attempt to re-establish emotional (neurophysiologic) homeostasis. If this is the case, Petrine’s solution was a good one, an intelligent one (as we would say of ourselves) and entirely compatible with our body of knowledge. It may seem improbable at first, but it becomes more reasonable the more we think about it.

Some of you will still think I am anthropomorphizing, and you have every right to do so. Pre-Petrine era, I would have thought the same. I would never have conceived of such an explanation. However, post-Petrine, a little dog that helped me discover many facets of life on Earth, I’m no longer so sure of the boundaries of anthropomorphism. Are intelligence, reasoning and self-respect only human features? In my opinion, as an evolutionary biologist, it is unlikely. Maybe language is misleading us once again. As Carl Sagan wrote, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” After all, why should “we” be so radically different from “them”?

Whilst I wouldn’t dare to rely on the unobservable self-respect on a scientific study, I wouldn’t dare either not to rely on it at a personal level on any one-on-one relationship independently of species involved. Unobservable and un-measurable, it may be, yet it remains for me a solid guideline reminding me that I am but one among many.

Life is great!

Featured image: Petrine, the English Cocker Spaniel, compelled me to ask: are intelligence, reasoning and self-respect only human features?

Odie The Pekinese: Awaiting On Death Row

SadPekingese

Odie came to me on an odd day, one of those rainy, grey days, when the only thing you want to do is stay at home, listen to good music, watch the fire roaring in the fireplace, hold a hot cup of punch in your hands and feel sorry for yourself. Odie, an ugly duckling of a Pekinese, was awaiting his turn on death row. A twist of fate meant Odie survived his death sentence and, one year later, he had turned into a beautiful wolf.

I was sitting in my office at my desk, gazing absent-mindedly at a blank piece of paper lodged in my typewriter, which, unfortunately, had been stuck there for far too long. I was suddenly wrenched from my thoughts when our vet knocked at the door. “Have you got a minute? ” she asked. I debated saying “No,” but overcame the temptation. She came in, accompanied by Odie’s owners, and explained the situation. Odie’s owners wanted to euthanize him because they were sick of a particularly annoying behavior of his. He urinated all over the house and, when one day they found him cocking his leg up the impeccable flower arrangement they had proudly positioned in the middle of their much cherished, antique mahogany dining table, that was the last straw.

“Right on top of the table?” I asked them and they nodded solemnly.

I glanced down at Odie with newfound respect for it was no mean feat for an eight-inch (20 cm) tall Pekinese to climb on top of a dining table in order to accomplish a vital mission. So I asked them if I could keep the dog instead of them euthanizing him. I would try to solve his problem and find a good home for him. They were overjoyed at my proposal and I thus found myself being the improbable owner of a Pekinese for the first, and no doubt, last time in my life.

I was on a very tight deadline to write an article. After giving Odie a quick once over, I turned back to my typewriter and the embarrassingly blank sheet of paper. I remember thinking “Gee, you’re a really ugly little fellow, I understand why they wanted to get rid of you.” Odie grunted once in return. I think he could take a bit of humor. I would take care of Odie later. My first priority was to fill that all too white sheet of paper with some wise words.

Once deeply submerged in writing my article (or not writing it as the case may be), it was then I heard an almost imperceptible sound that took a couple of seconds to register and identify. I spun round to the source of the sound and, to my astonishment, my suspicion was confirmed. Odie was peeing on my books on my bookshelf.

I am a peaceful person and it takes a lot to upset me. Being a child of the sixties, I accept everyone and almost everything; all is good as long as it doesn’t restrict my freedom. However, one thing I must confess I can’t take is having someone peeing on my beloved books. I don’t discriminate: nobody urinates on my books, period! My reaction was therefore pure reflex. I reached for the first thing I had at hand, ironically enough it was my first book about dog training and behavior “Psychology Rather Than Force” and, before I knew it, I had thrown it at Odie.

The book, a good quality hardback, landed with a smack right behind Odie. Taken by surprise, he yelped, performed a beautiful pirouette in the air and stood there looking baffled and bewildered, staring at my book. For my part, I remained quiet as a mouse, holding my breath. After a few seconds, Odie managed to compose himself. He approached the book, sniffed at it in a noisy, Pekinese manner, then took a sniff at the bookshelf before returning to my book on the floor and giving it another long, even noisier sniff. Smacking his lips, he decided to lie down right next to the book. I returned to my tauntingly clean sheet of paper whilst keeping one eye on Odie.

Odie fell asleep, or so it seemed, and I finally began filling the blank sheet of paper with some meaningful words. A little later, whilst searching for something on my desk, I happened to knock a pencil over the edge and it fell on the floor between the desk and that bookshelf, a source of so much knowledge and inspiration. Odie opened his big, bulging eyes, one looking right and the other looking left, and approached the pencil. I couldn’t see him or the pencil but could hear him clearly, grunting, snuffling, puffing and panting. A few seconds later, maybe 15, he came around the desk directly towards me. He was holding the pencil in his mouth, each eye still looking in a different direction, one as wet as the other, dribble all over his face, with his head covered in balls of dust and fluff reminding me that my office needed a good hoovering.

I stretched out my hand to him and automatically said “tak” (which means “thanks” in the Scandinavian languages and was my sound signal for “release”). Odie, with a grunt, promptly dropped the slimy pencil into my hand. I was impressed. Was that a “retrieval”? Did he really retrieve that pencil for me?

pekingesef6

Odie became very popular. His odd looks combined with his skills were an improbable combination in most people’s eyes.

I was so baffled and curious that I proceeded to do something that fellow pencil lovers regard as the ultimate sin towards pencils. You never drop a pencil as it is highly likely you’ll break the lead inside, rendering it useless once sharpened a couple of times. I tossed the pencil so it fell in the same place between my desk and the bookshelf; and once again, Odie ran (I think he was running, but don’t know for sure as I couldn’t see his short legs for all the fur), he grunted, snuffled, puffed and panted, rubbing one eye then the other along the floor in an effort to pick up the pencil and, in doing so, collected even more dust fluff. He wouldn’t give up, finally managed to take the pencil in his mouth and promptly returned it to me just as he had done before.

“Hallelujah!” I exclaimed despite my lack of religious conviction, “We have a retriever!” Joy filled my heart. The misery and self-pity the dull, grey day had imposed upon me ever since I had got out of bed that morning were gone like magic. Of all the activities I have undertaken with dogs, the one that has most amused me, and my dogs too it would seem, is without a shadow of doubt search and retrieve.

Odie never again urinated indoors, a fact we have discussed at some length. We are convinced it was the book incident that did it, due to the optimal coincidence of a series of conditions. Firstly, he was caught in the act (perfect timing), secondly, he did not associate the book falling behind him with me (instead with his own behavior), thirdly, the smack of the book falling on the floor had the right intensity to startle him (not too much, not too little), and fourthly, he associated the book aversive with his urinating behavior and nothing else (it happened when he urinated, it stopped when he stopped). No bad feelings towards books and (of course) no bad feelings from books towards him. Of course, the moral of this story is not that you should throw books at your dog. Let me say this loudly and clearly so no one gets it wrong: I do not recommend people throw books at their dogs. It worked in this case because of the coincidence of the many necessary conditions for it to work (as I explained) and that’s it.

I kept Odie and we all trained him. Sit, stand and, down were no problem at all, only difficult to observe for all the fur and short legs. We used treats as unconditioned reinforcers and my “dygtig” (as a semi-conditioned reinforcer), but he would do anything as long as we held a pencil in our hands (this was his reinforcer of choice). He would take the treats only because he was hungry. We put him on a program where he had to work for all his food and he worked a lot: no free food at all. Odie became very popular. His odd looks combined with his skills were an improbable combination in most people’s eyes. The staff at the Ethology Institute sometimes asked if they could take him home to show visiting friends. Odie never disappointed.

At the time, I was living in one of those enormous, old European mansions, like small castles, with three floors and endless of rooms. One particularly cold winter when the fields were covered by snow and ice, our cellar (basement) became a refuge for mice. This is very normal and we all know how to deal with the problem, except that I thought at the time it was more dignified for a mouse to die in battle than to be trapped or poisoned. Therefore, I introduced a hunting session every night at 8 pm after having read my son Daniel his bedtime story.

The nightly hunting session began with the troops, Petrine, Elanor (English Cocker Spaniels) and myself, assembling at the door to the cellar. Petrine and Elanor were skilled hunters so this was a good opportunity to stimulate them. Every evening we enacted the age-old game of predator and prey in the cellar of that big, old mansion house. Odie was always very keen to join us on our mission and, one evening, I decided to let him give it a go. Odie experienced his first hunt.

Odie quickly learned the rules of the game, although learn is perhaps the wrong term as it looked like he had always known and just had to be reminded. The first time, he went under a couch to chase a mouse, he took a long time. All I could hear was his usual grunting, snuffling, puffing, panting and the occasional high-pitched squeak from a mouse. I guess the mice were terrified of Odie’s looks combined with the spluttering, snorting and grunting. He came to me carrying his first mouse by a hind leg, the mouse completely stiff and wet, but very much alive. Odie became an efficient mouse hunter. He was quick and could squeeze into confined spaces for which the cockers were too big. Every evening, he was the first to reach our rendezvous point. He was there from around seven onwards, waiting patiently. He insisted on being the first to reach the bottom of the stairs to the cellar which was quite a spectacle for the steps were too steep for his all too short legs. He somehow managed to overtake the cockers on the way down, not running, but tumbling down amidst a cloud of dust and much snorting and grunting. The cockers just looked at him bemused. Up until then, our mission had been a well-planned military operation. Stealth, discipline, training, dedication and precise timing were our weapons. After Odie joined us, it all looked more like Asterix and Obelix against the Romans.

The days passed, one year passed, and Odie grew older and more experienced. I bet he could have won all kinds of competitions, but we never subjected him to that. By then he had become a great hunter, only limited by his physical characteristics, the ones us humans have bestowed upon him through selective breeding.

It was bound to happen sooner or later: one day someone came along that wanted to keep Odie. It was love at first sight when they saw his antics. When they asked me about his original problem, I couldn’t even remember what it was. I had completely forgotten, as had we all. After that first “attack” by my book, he had never again urinated indoors. Odie found a good home, one year after he had entered our lives.

I was sad to see him go. We all were. We often spoke fondly of him and made each other laugh by telling Odie stories. Odie had taught us invaluable lessons. First, that we should never judge anyone by their appearance. He was a little dog, short-legged, furry, flat-faced and cross-eyed, but he was a dog at heart like any other. None of us thought he was ugly, despite my initial horror. He was further evidence that many dogs develop problems because they are not treated as dogs; they are understimulated and their excess energy causes them to engage in any kind of activity, be it desirable or undesirable for the owners. He was a quick learner and an impeccable hunter with an enormous joy for life. Without words, he told us: “Respect and you shall be respected. I’m not a toy, not a thing, not a little human. I’m Odie, a Pekinese dog.”

14 years later, I went to give a talk in a town about 50 km from where I lived. During the break, a couple approached me and asked me if I remembered them. It took me a while, but I did recognize them. They were the new owners we had found for Odie. He was still alive, they informed me, but very old and tired by then. He no longer had any front teeth, as his love for retrieving hard objects had not waned over the years. They said they were getting ready for the day they would have to say goodbye to Odie and I saw their eyes well up.

Thinking of him, my eyes welled up too, Odie, the ugly duckling of a Pekinese that had turned into a beautiful wolf in my eyes and in the eyes of all those who had the privilege to know him. Thanks, Odie, my friend!

___________________________

PS—I know that metamorphosis does not occur in canids and that a dog cannot turn into a wolf. I also know that a dog is a dog (Canis lupus familiaris) and not a wolf (Canis lupus lupus). Since this is a story with a point written for a blog, not a scientific article, I allow myself some artistic license when I write “Odie turned into a beautiful wolf.”

Featured image: Odie, an ugly duckling of a Pekinese, was awaiting his turn on death row. A twist of fate meant Odie survived his death sentence and, one year later, he had turned into a beautiful wolf (Photo by Nikolaj).

Featured Course of the Week

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

Featured Price: € 396.00 € 198.00

 

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

ATMWCourse

The Perfect Relationship

Relationship Child Dog (ChildDogPuddle-600x326.png)

I’ve posted this clip before, and I’ll do it again. I can watch it repeatedly and never get tired of it. It’s just beautiful.

This is what we want: the perfect relationship. This is something to aim at, to uncover the secret of these two—child and dog—replicate it and promote it.

It’s so simple that it is shocking.

Please, watch this short clip with an open mind, preferably several times. We see what we think and feel, seldom what we are looking at. Forget all about politics, labels and all the artificial constructs with which our biased, adult human mind enslaves us, ruling us with an iron hand.

Just watch, enjoy, and allow it to inspire you.

Waltzing at the Rhythm of Life

Guinea pig camp

The first time I realized it for real was maybe 20 years ago. I was giving a horse workshop in LA, and they had gotten me a Mustang stallion to work with.

I looked at him for a moment as he looked at me. There was no defiance or diffidence in our gazes. We were just two lost creatures thrown in the arena of life. I cannot know what he thought at that moment. Maybe he was dreaming about running in the great plains of the mighty North-American continent where his ancestors once roamed freely. As to me, I found myself longing for home, for the comforting peace of my South-Andaman sea. None of us dared to move. The seminar attendees were absolutely silent, sensing or expecting they were going to get value for their money.

I might have been as reticent about the situation as the horse was. I don’t know who started it—maybe the horse, perhaps me, or both at the same time. As we began walking, suddenly, we were in sync. Slower, quicker, left, right, stop, we were mirroring one another: no words, no big gestures, just motion. We were not adversaries, not in opposition. We were partners at that moment. Our differences did not matter; our similarities did. We were like dancing together. If one of us missed a beat, the other would immediately step forward and follow up.

Many years later, in a completely different environment, I experienced the same again. I was diving in the magnificent South Andaman, so spellbound by the underwater beauty around me that I think I forgot I was just a human out of my natural environment. Without realizing it, at first, I found myself following the movements and the rhythm of a school of snappers swimming in front of me. Before I knew of it, there were another fish all around me, and they didn’t seem to be bothered at all by the presence of this bubble-making, definitely not a fish-like creature. For the first time underwater, I felt I was not a stranger, a visiting tourist.

Life has a rhythm, I learned. Since then, I’ve applied the rhythm factor to all my interactions with animals independently of species. When I train dogs, I always begin by getting acquainted with the dog, walking with the dog rhythmically forth and back. Once we have established contact, all the rest works much smoother, independently of what we’re supposed to do.

Yesterday, I showed it to my Guinea pig camp attendees. We worked on coordinating the movements of the team mates like a school of fish. I think it became clear, yesterday, what I meant days earlier when I emphasized how crucial it was for us to control ourselves, our movements and our emotions. Once they were all synced, the Guinea pigs fell in, and the results did not wait to show up.

Yesterday was the day we “waltzed with the Guinea pigs” at the rhythm of life.

Waltzing with the piggies at the rhythm of life. Victor Ros (Ethology Institute’s Graduate Trainer) working with Guinea pig in Pancalieri, Italy, in 2013. Being a skilled horseman, Victor knows the importance of rhythm (filmed by Roger Abrantes).

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

Your Dog Understands Your Yawn

Your Dog Understands Your Yawn

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

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

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

WolfYawning

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

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

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

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

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

Featured image by Anton Antonsen.

Featured Course of the Week

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

Featured Price: € 396.00 € 198.00

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

ATMWCourse

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.

Children and Dogs—How to Avoid Problems

Too many misunderstandings between children and dogs end in tragedy with the dogs biting.  Then, the dog is re-homed or destroyed and the child may retain physical or emotional scars for the rest of his or her life.

We must take any problem between children and dogs with extreme seriousness. Best of all, we should set preventative measures into action before accidents happen. Allow me to be blunt: when a dog bites a child, it is always the adults’ responsibility. If a child and a dog misunderstand each other so blatantly, it is because we (adults) have failed. We haven’t been good enough in explaining to the child how dogs understand our behavior; and we have been irresponsible dog owners, as we should have taught our dogs to respect a child always and unconditionally. Subsequent apologies and explanations are useless.

A child must never pay the price for her parents’ ignorance and the dog owners’ negligence—nor must a dog. Period.

Even if you are not a parent, and you are not planning to be, you must teach your dog to accept children and to behave well in their presence. We should regard every child as our own, our priority to protect them all. A bitten child is a mark of shame for all of us, dog owners.

DanielScentDetection1

Daniel and Rassi doing scent detection in 1997. Scent detection games are excellent to teach children and dogs to work together.

Playing safe is the best advice I’d give you. In particular, pay attention to the following potentially dangerous situations:

  • We must never allow the dog to pick up the child’s toys in its mouth. If this happens, instruct the child not to take the toy from the dog, but to tell you, or another adult.
  • Do not allow rough playing and games where unforeseen consequences are unavoidable.
  • Instruct the child not to run in the dog’s presence, as this is liable to encourage the dog to chase the child.
  • Discourage all attempts by the dog to jump up at the child, as this scares most children.
  • Do not allow them to sleep together. We never know what might frighten one or the other, suddenly, and trigger an accident. It can also contribute to developing an allergic response from the child.
  • Do not feed them together. The vicinity of food is a factor likely to trigger increased vigilance in some dogs and may cause unfortunate accidents.
  • Instruct the child about the fundamental principles of understanding the dog so that teasing, or cruelty, is not an option.

“My First Dog Book” published in Danish in 1997, the book I wrote with the children, for the children.

“Dogs and Children,” the book included in the online course of the same name.

DogsAndChildrenBookCover-384x563

Playing safe is the best advice I’d give you. In particular, pay attention to the following potentially dangerous situations:

  • We must never allow the dog to pick up the child’s toys in its mouth. If this happens, instruct the child not to take the toy from the dog, but to tell you, or another adult.
  • Do not allow the dog and the child to play rough games where unforeseen consequences are unavoidable.
  • Instruct the child not to run in the dog’s presence, as this is liable to encourage the dog to chase the child.
  • Discourage all attempts by the dog to jump up at the child, as this scares most children.
  • Do not allow the child and the dog to sleep together. We never know what might frighten one or the other, suddenly, and trigger an accident. It can also contribute to developing an allergic response from the child.
  • Do not feed the dog and the child together. The vicinity of food is a factor likely to trigger increased vigilance in some dogs and may cause unfortunate accidents.
  • Instruct the child about the fundamental principles of understanding the dog so that teasing, or cruelty, is not an option.

Featured Course of the Week

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

Featured Price: € 396.00 € 198.00

 

Learn more in our course Dogs and Children, the course that everyone should take independently of whether one has children, dogs, both or none. It is our (adults) duty to protect them, who need it most, our children and our animals. Dogs and children are wonderful together when all goes well. Learn how to prevent serious problems from occurring and how to give your child and dog some fun and meaningful activities so they can develop a good and respectful relationship.

Dogs and children—a Natural Relationship (DogsAndChildrenCourse-1-1024x538)

Do You Know What the Canine Hip Nudge Behavior Means?

Dog owners often think their dogs are pushy or impolite when they turn their backs to them, sometimes even pushing them. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

A hip nudge is a behavior a dog shows when it nudges another with its hip or rear end. Dogs often use this sort of behavior towards people, typically during greeting ceremonies when we show the dog passive friendliness by crouching down to it. The dog will walk towards us and turn round. Then, it will either nudge us gently with its hip or rear end or stand passively with its back turned to us.

CanineHipNudgeRAA

This dog shows a half hip nudge, still a sign of friendliness. Both human and dog are relaxed and show their peaceful intentions and that they trust one another (photo by Lisa Jernigan Bain).

The hip nudge functions as a pacifying behavior. It signals friendliness. By turning its back to us, the dog shows that it doesn’t intend to attack—it turns its teeth away. At the same time, it shows that it trusts us.

Dogs use the same behavior though modified, during mating rituals where the male nudges the female.

I described this behavior for the first time in 1987, in the original edition of “Dog Language,” after having spent several years observing, photographing and filming dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), wolves (Canis lupus lupus) and foxes (Vulpes vulpes).

Between dog and wolf, there are only small differences, which we can almost characterize as dialects. The fox is a different story, although displaying many behaviors common to the other two, probably because it is not as social as its cousins.

Featured image: The hip nudge functions as a pacifying behavior. It signals friendliness (illustration by Alice Rasmussen from “Dog Language” by Roger Abrantes).

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

Canine Maternal Behavior

Cocker and Pup (Canine Maternal Behavior)

Watching dog mothers take care of their pups continues to fascinate me, and the large populations of village dogs in Africa and Thailand, where I spent and spend much time, provides me with plenty of opportunities to do it. Village dogs are domestic dogs, not wild. Often classified as strays by the inept, ignorant eye of the western tourist, these dogs perform an essential task in their communities of humans and their domestic animals.

Maternal behavior is behavior shown by a mother toward her offspring. In most species, she is the one taking primary care of the youngsters, canines being no exception. Natural selection favored the evolution of this particular behavior in females.

In wild canids, although the female watches over the puppies, the father (also called the alpha male) and other adults come interested in the feeding and raising of the pups when they emerge from the den. In the surveys my team did in the 1980s, our dogs showed the same pattern in a domestic set-up.

Thus, maternal behavior is identical in wild canids and domestic dogs. After birth, the mother dries the puppies, keeps them warm, feeds them and licks them clean. Hormonal processes control maternal behavior right after birth, and problems may occur if the female gives birth too early. On the other hand, pseudo-pregnancy causes females to undergo hormonal changes, which may elicit maternal behavior in various degrees. Maternal behavior appears to be self-reinforcing. Studies show that the levels of dopamine increase in the nucleus accumbens (a region of the brain) when a female displays maternal behavior.

When the puppies become older, the mother educates them. She gives them the first lessons in dog language at the time weaning occurs. Growling, snarling, and pacifying behaviors are inborn, but the pups need to learn their function.

When the puppies become older, the mother begins to educate them. She gives them the first lessons in dog language about the time weaning begins (Illustration by Alice Rasmussen from “Dog Language” by Roger Abrantes).

The canine mother has three main tasks: (1) to feed the puppies, first with her milk, then by regurgitation, (2) to keep them clean and warm, especially when they are young, and (3) to educate them.

A good canine mother is patient and diligent. Dog owners often misunderstand the mother’s more powerful educational methods. She may growl at them and even attack them, but she never harms them. Muzzle grasping is relatively common(see illustrations).

Without the mother’s intervention, the pups would never become capable social animals and would not function in a pack (a group of wild dogs living together is in English, a pack). When the puppies are about 8-10 weeks old, the mother seems to lose some of her earlier interest in them. In normal circumstances, the rest of the pack takes over the continuing education of the pups, their social integration in the group (which mostly comprises relatives) and their protection.

Dog owners sometimes report problems, e.g., that the mother has no interest in her puppies or is too violent towards them. Our selective breeding is the primary cause of this issue. We select for beauty and utility while nature selects for overall fitness, including adequate maternal behavior, and our lack of understanding of the mother’s needs during and after birth, often result in the female showing stress, insecurity or aggressive behavior.

The maternal effect is the mother’s influence on her pups. It can have such an impact on particular behaviors it may overshadow the role of genetics. For example, observations show that a female showing too nervous or fearful reactions toward sounds may prompt her puppies into developing sound phobias beyond what we would expect given their specific genotype. Therefore, it is difficult, if not impossible, for researchers to assess the hereditary coefficient for particular traits.

Bottom-line: Do not breed females you suspect will not show adequate maternal behavior and do not disturb a female with pups. A good canine mother knows better than you, what’s best for her pups.

 

Related articles

 

References

  • Abrantes, R. 1997. The Evolution of Canine Social Behavior. Wakan Tanka Publishers.
  • Abrantes, R. 1997. Dog Language. Wakan Tanka Publishers.
  • Coppinger, R. and Coppinger, L. 2001. Dogs: a Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution. Scribner.
  • Darwin, C. 1872. The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals. John Murray (the original edition).
  • Fox, M. 1972. Behaviour of Wolves, Dogs, and Related Canids. Harper and Row.
  • Lopez, Barry H. (1978). Of Wolves and Men. J. M. Dent and Sons Limited.
  • Mech, L. D. 1970. The wolf: the ecology and behavior of an endangered species. Doubleday Publishing Co., New York.
  • Mech, L. David (1981). The Wolf: The Ecology and Behaviour of an Endangered Species. University of Minnesota Press.
  • Mech, L. D. 1988. The arctic wolf: living with the pack. Voyageur Press, Stillwater, Minn.
  • Mech. L. D. and Boitani, L. 2003. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. University of Chicago Press.
  • Scott, J. P. and Fuller, J. L. 1998. Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog. University of Chicago Press.
  • Zimen, E. 1975. Social dynamics of the wolf pack. In The wild canids: their systematics, behavioral ecology and evolution. Edited by M. W. Fox. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York. pp. 336-368.
  • Zimen, E. 1982. A wolf pack sociogram. In Wolves of the world. Edited by F. H. Harrington, and P. C. Paquet. Noyes Publishers, Park Ridge, NJ.

Featured image: Canine maternal behavior is more than just feeding the pups (by Cinoclub).

Featured Course of the Week

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

Featured Price: € 396.00 € 198.00

 

Learn more in our course All About Puppies, a state-of-the-art online course with everything you need to know about puppies. Choice of puppy, imprinting and socialization, creating good habits and preventing misbehavior, training and stimulating the puppy, house rules and much more. The course everyone should have before acquiring a dog, one all dog trainers should recommend their clients to take when they show up to a class with a puppy. All About Puppies is more than that: it’s the complete dog course.

AllAboutPuppiesCourse