Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Is it a case of the Clever Hans Effect?
The news is full of stories about dogs with incredible abilities. As a dog lover, I adore hearing about amazing canine skills. As a scientist, I am often skeptical and wonder if the dog in question is really capable of doing what has been claimed. The story of Beau is one such case in which I have been made to wonder.
According to his guardian David Madsen, and to many witnesses, Beau can do math. For example, if Madsen tells Beau that there were six dogs at the park but three of them left, and then asks his dog how many dogs are left, Beau answers, “woof, woof, woof.” He will answer with five barks if asked what two plus three equals.
Madsen says Beau is correct about 85 percent of the time and that he has never had such a smart dog. To prove that he was not signaling the dog, Madsen has allowed others to test Beau when he (Madsen) was absent. Beau’s success when Madsen is not there proves that Madsen is not pulling a fast one on the rest of us, but it does not speak to the possibility that Beau’s skills are the result of the “Clever Hans Effect.”
Hans was a horse who lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was owned by Wilhelm von Osten, who claimed to have taught him many skills, including arithmetic. Hans responded to questions, both oral and written, by tapping his foot. Many people observed Hans perform with von Osten at various shows throughout Germany.
In 1904, a panel of 13 people tested Hans to determine whether the horse actually knew the answers to the questions or if von Osten was tricking them all by secretly signaling his horse. They concluded that von Osten was not committing fraud and that the horse did indeed know the answers to the questions.
In 1907, psychologist Oskar Pfungst evaluated Clever Hans and shed new light on what the horse was able to do. In a series of tests, Pfungst investigated the horse’s success at answering questions under a variety of circumstances. He sometimes kept the horse away from spectators to make sure that the horse was not using any cues from them. He had people other than von Osten question Hans at times. He used blinders so that the horse could not always see the person asking the questions. He varied the distance between the questioner and Hans. Finally, in some cases, he used questioners who did not know the answer.
Pfungst noted that Hans got the answer to questions right even when von Osten was not the person asking the questions, which convinced him that Hans’ performance was not a fraud. He also observed that Hans answered correctly only when he could see the questioner and when the questioner knew the answer. For example, when von Osten knew the correct answer, Hans was correct almost 90 percent of the time, but when von Osten did not know the answer, the horse’s responses were correct only about 6 percent of the time. Hans’ performance suffered to a lesser degree if the questioner was far away from him.
What Pfungst noticed after observing the behavior of questioners was that as the horse tapped his leg, the person would change his expression and posture subtly as the horse approached the correct answer. He observed that when the horse had tapped the right amount of times for a correct answer, the person released that tension. That release in tension was the cue that the horse was using to know when to stop tapping.
Even being aware of this tendency to cue the horse, questioners, including Pfungst, could not stop their faces and bodies from giving information to the horse, as these cues are largely involuntary. Questioners were entirely unaware that they were communicating with the horse in this way. Pfungst showed that while Hans did not know the answers, von Osten was not a fraud. (Von Osten never accepted that Clever Hans was cuing off of people rather than actually solving the problems and continued to show his horse to appreciative crowds throughout Germany.)
The tendency of an observer to influence the behavior of a subject being studied with subtle and unintentional cues is called the “Clever Hans Effect.” Most experiments in psychology are now carefully designed to avoid it.
Hans may not have had the grasp of mathematics that von Osten claimed, but there is no doubt that this horse was a brilliant observer. His ability to cue off subtle cues in people’s posture and facial expressions was remarkable, and as such, this famous and talented horse certainly earned his nickname “Clever Hans.”
It would be interesting to test Beau, the dog who has so recently gained fame for his performances. Beau clearly possesses an extraordinary ability, but I want to know exactly what it is. Is it a great mathematical talent or a highly developed aptitude for observing and responding to people’s subtle, unintentional facial expressions and body language?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Some dogs don’t have it
Last fall, we were dog sitting for a delightful dog called Marley. His breed is best described as “Hmm, hard to say. I’d guess he has some hound in him, but after that I’m mystified.” (Check out the blog Canardly Marley to see what people have guessed about his breed.) Anyway, while spending a lovely four days with Marley, I learned a lot about him. It’s always a process getting to know a new dog, and most things about dogs don’t surprise me.
Marley has one highly unexpected trait. He is not the slightest bit sensitive to sudden loud sounds. He was so unresponsive to loud sounds that I would be worried about his hearing except that he comes running to the kitchen at even the quietest hint of the crinkling of a bag of treats. In a house with two young children, there is ample opportunity to verify that loud sounds don’t upset him, though it was something I did that really showed that loud noises don’t matter to Marley.
Our smoke alarm went off one day. In our house, that usually means that I am cooking pancakes. However, on this particular day, the smoke came from our woodstove as we first lit the evening’s fire and failed to get a good draft up our chimney. As the obnoxious but potentially life-saving beeping of our smoke alarm began, Marley looked up, cocked his head, and then went back to his Kong, completely unconcerned with the noise. Meanwhile, the rest of us were running around opening windows, fanning the smoke alarm with a cookie sheet, and grabbing a chair so that we could reach up to make it stop alerting us to the smoke. I make pancakes often, so our system for dealing with the smoke alarm is a well-oiled one.
On another occasion, Marley was playing with a balloon leftover from my son’s birthday party the day before. (By the way, I don’t advocate this as a toy for dogs because many dogs do get scared when they pop and also because dogs who habitually ingest things are too likely to choke if they take pieces of balloon into their mouths.) The balloon popped, and as you can see in the video below, Marley’s reaction was minimal in the extreme.
It’s quite delightful to live with a dog who is not bothered by loud noises, as anyone who has ever had a dog who panics in similar situations knows. Marley is not reactive to any loud noises, including power saws, as you can observe in this video:
Care to share any tales of dogs don’t care at all about loud noises, or about dogs who get alarmed in response to the sound of the proverbial pin dropping?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
They’ll jump in any puddle
While dog sitting for the adorable Marley, I learned that I share an unexpected trait with him: Marley loves water. I found this endearing and it made me feel close to him because I’m the same way. I grew up in LA within sight of the ocean. (If we leaned a certain way in our driveway and the neighbor’s Magnolia tree blew just right, we could see the ocean. We enjoyed joking that our house had an ocean view.) I've always loved the beach, tidepooling, scuba diving, windsurfing, the pool, lakes, streams, ponds and any other type of water. I even love to splash on puddles in the rain when no other water option is available to me.
It seems Marley is the same way. He’ll jump into any puddle. We took him into the backyard, and after surveying his temporary playground, he headed right for a two-person sled that had fallen from our shed and filled with rainwater in the previous night’s storms. He stood there in the chilly water looking very pleased. I knew at once we were kindred spirits.
On subsequent walks, we both enjoyed sloshing through the water in the gutter and stomping in the few puddles that remained. I suspect that Marley, like me, would gravitate towards any body of water no matter the size or the temperature. While I find this charming, I could also imagine it to be inconvenient at times.
Does anyone else have any tales to tell of a dog who seems drawn to water of all kinds, whether it’s the neighbor’s pool, the sprinkler in the garden, or even an upturned trash bin lid?
Making sense of dogs
What is an anthrozoologist, anyway? Turns out it’s someone who studies human-animal interactions, and John Bradshaw, who directs the world-renowned Anthrozoology Institute based at the UK’s University of Bristol (and founded it at the University of Southampton), is pre-eminent among them. For more than a quarter of a century, he’s investigated the behavior of dogs and their people, and his findings have been widely published. In Dog Sense — his best-selling, recently released book — he expands upon his belief that “the future of the dog does not lie simply with the blunt instruments of legislation and regulation, but with better public understanding of what dogs actually are, their needs and wants.” Recently, Bradshaw shared his thoughts on evolution, training (debunking the myth behind the “dog as wolf” model), changes in breeding practices in the UK and what lies behind dogs’ attraction and attachment to us, among other intriguing ideas.
Bark: Why do you think that a proto-dog — a transition from wolf to dog — evolved?
John Bradshaw: My theory — and I have nothing to back it up — is that something happened in the brains of certain wolves that made dual socialization possible. Humans developed a propensity to take in pets, and then these particular wolves came along — these would be the protodogs. They would have looked exactly like wolves. This was not an intervention on our part, but rather, a very different cultural environment.
B: Most researchers refer to domestication as a one-way street. Didn’t other species, including the wolf and proto-dog, also have an effect on our own evolution?
JB: Domestication was a long and complex process; speculatively, I would [say] that there were several failed attempts. Researchers who are studying human evolution and the human brain pretty much say that our own evolution — at the genetic level — wasn’t influenced by dogs. But, of course, our culture has been profoundly influenced by them.
B: Do you think it’s possible that we hunted together, or perhaps learned or honed our own skills by watching wolves hunt?
JB: I don’t think we were hunting partners, to begin with, but one of the versions of human evolution that I strongly subscribe to comes from Steven Mithen, a cognitive archaeologist and professor of early prehistory, who studies the evolution of the human mind and why we are different from the Neanderthal — why they died out and we didn’t. One of the key [dissimilarities] he points to is our ancestors’ ability to think like animals. They could put themselves in the place of an animal — that they, in fact, had a connection to the animals. So we would be able to think, “If I were a wolf, what would I be doing?” or, “If I were a deer, what would I do now?”
B: If scientists have concluded that wolf behavior is different from that of dogs, why do people still consider the lupomorph (wolf pack) model as a determinant of canine behavior?
JB: They have a good excuse, which is that in terms of their DNA, dogs and wolves are so similar. However, that doesn’t mean there is similarity in their behaviors.
B: If the wolf model isn’t appropriate, what is?
JB: The behavior of feral, or village, dogs in Italy, Russia and India has been studied recently, and results show that those dogs are much closer to the ancestors of pet dogs than wolves are. These are urban feral dogs, high-density dogs, dogs in large groups. Earlier studies [of feral dogs] were conducted in environments in which the dogs were being persecuted and are like the early captive-wolf studies: not reliable.
B: You write that there is little evidence that hierarchy is a particular fixation of dogs — that dogs do not want to dominate us — but so many trainers (including Cesar Millan, as you note in the book) and others use this construct to explain dog behavior. Why is this wrong and what are its implications?
JB: Part of the problem is that confrontation makes good television, and attracts programmers, but having a confrontation in your living room with your own dog isn’t the best way to train a dog. The more effective way is to use reward-based training, which can be (by television standards) incredibly dull, since it may take hours or sometimes weeks. My colleagues and I are appalled by the popularity of this style of confrontational dog training. I don’t know what the situation is in your country, but in the UK, we have a new Animal Welfare Act, and that kind of training goes against its recommendations. The law reads, “All dogs should be trained to behave well, ideally from a very young age. Only use positive reward-based training. Avoid harsh, potentially painful or frightening training methods.”
B: Have you seen any changes in breeding practices in the UK as a result of the BBC’s “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” documentary?
JB: The genetic isolation of breeds has brought about a dramatic change in the canine gene pool. Three inquiries have been commissioned: one by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, another by the government and a third by the Kennel Club itself, but there is still a great deal to be done. There are problems implementing the studies’ conclusions because the KC, like the AKC, is a federal structure made up of individual breed clubs. The federation has no power to tell the member breed clubs what to do.
B: Many people use puppy testing to predict a dog’s adult character. Do you feel this is valid?
JB: Dogs are born to become friendly toward people, a process that starts in about the third week of their life and goes on for several months. This process of socialization is well charted. At 16 weeks, the window of socialization to people begins to close, though it stays open a bit longer for socialization to other dogs.
B: You write that dogs have been so heavily selected to form strong attachments to humans that many suffer from separation anxiety — up to 50 percent of Labs bred in the UK, for instance. On what is this finding based?
JB: It comes from my own research and that of others. We concluded that many dogs experience this anxiety at some time in their lifetime. In one longitudinal study, we followed puppies, 40 in all, litters of Labradors and Border Collies, from eight weeks to 18 months old. Over 50 percent of the Labs and almost half of the Collies showed some kind of separation distress. Subsequent studies, during which we filmed dogs left alone, showed that self-reporting by owners underestimates the scope of the problem.
B: One of the most controversial positions you take is that being in a shelter may damage a dog. Was consideration given to contributing factors such as the length of time spent in a shelter, the condition of the facility, the interactions a dog has with other dogs and humans there, and the dog’s personality and history?
JB: We want to understand what is going on inside these dogs, and I am not in any way blaming rescuers or shelters. Dogs who have been attached to a family may suddenly wind up in a shelter for a variety of reasons: family breakup, job loss or the dog’s behavioral problems. Dogs will be very upset by this and when they arrive in a shelter, their cortisol level [a stress-related hormone] goes sky high. We know this because when we’ve taken urine samples, we’ve had to dilute the urine to even get a measurement — it was that high. They don’t have the resources to cope and go into hyperdrive, desperate to please people. As a result, in a shelter setting, dogs actually can be easily trained.
B: Dogs clearly love us, and demonstrate that in many ways, but is this what motivates them to obey us and follow our lead?
JB: Human contact has a high-level reward value for dogs; simple attention from us is rewarding. And if that attention comes while playing with them, it can be a double reward. You can train a dog with a tennis ball, but while the game is important, it is not the only thing. The real treat is the interaction. Withdraw your attention, ignore the dog, and the dog will find this withdrawal of attention aversive.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Going the distance
I should have realized right away that something special was going on in a group dog-training session last spring. When I asked the participants to call their dogs to come and then run away, they all did, and with Whippet-like speed. Most people need lots of encouragement to run, and even then — looking sheepish — they tend to take a few half-hearted jogging steps at most. This was no ordinary group, but rather, some of the world’s best distance runners, athletes so good they are sponsored by the likes of Adidas, New Balance, Nike, Mizuno, Brooks and Reebok. They’re living and training in Flagstaff, Ariz., in pursuit of their Olympic dreams because this mountain town’s high altitude, abundant trails and sunny weather provide the perfect conditions for distance running.
Since that day, I’ve worked with other local elite runners, helping them teach their dogs to conquer fears of unfamiliar people, cars and leashes; stop chasing bikes; greet visitors politely at the door; walk nicely on leash; perform tricks like crawl, high-five, shake, spin and roll over; and continue running rather than be distracted by other dogs. The successes they have as trainers have everything to do with their success as athletes: they take what they already know about training to be world-class runners and apply it to training their dogs. The following principles apply equally to dog training and running.
Value consistent practice.
It’s not how fast you run in training, it’s more a consistency, those back-to-back 100-mile weeks.
Recognize that progress is incremental.
In dog training, there can be 100 steps from the starting point to the end point. Step one in recall work may be calling your dog to come when you’re standing in your distraction-free living room holding cooked chicken. Step 100 is calling your dog to come when he is chasing a rabbit with his best canine buddy. Small changes over time lead to success — a familiar concept for runners, who take years to build the fitness, technique and strategy required to race successfully at the international level.
Each workout seems to be building on the last.
Be goal oriented.
I often ask clients what they think success would look like. Do they want to be able to walk their reactive dog on leash through the neighborhood, or are they hoping to turn their little firecracker into a therapy dog? Do they want their dog to do a downstay when people enter the house, or is any behavior that involves keeping all four paws on the floor acceptable? Runners set goals, whether it’s running a personal-best time, following their race plan or winning an Olympic medal.
Setting an ultimate goal and stepping- stone goals help you to commit and make the ultimate goal tangible in your mind, which reflects in your daily actions, leading to success.
Welcome coaching and ideas for improvement.
Part of my job as a dog trainer and canine behaviorist is coaching — suggesting ways skills can be improved. I remind people to say a cue only once, help them with their timing, instruct them on modulating the pitch of their voice and guide them on giving clear visual signals. Coaches also give advice on modifications of everything from running form and breathing to when to make a move in a race. Athletes are accustomed to responding to their coaches, so they easily respond to my coaching, too.
Having a coach makes all the difference in the world, to offer outside advice with inside knowledge.
Know that little things matter.
Attention to detail, making sure to do all the little things right, is at a premium.
Understand that every situation is different.
Training Lucy is a lot like training for a big race that doesn’t quite work out. Training her one-on-one always goes really smoothly, like running a workout I’ve done a dozen times. In practice, everything goes fine, but race day can be a different story.
Accept setbacks as part of the process.
Progress is not always smooth. Setbacks teach us what we need to do to move forward. Accepting this as part of achieving goals is a trait these runners carry with them from their professional lives into their other pursuits, including dog training.
Setbacks are bound to happen, but if you approach it properly, I think you can come away much stronger and much smarter.
Elite runners love to win and hate to lose. In dog training, as in all endeavors, actively pursuing success makes its achievement more likely.
Times are nice, but I want that first place, that gold medal!
It’s a joy to associate with people who are so talented and willing to sacrifice so much in pursuit of their Olympic dreams. Yet, what I love most about working with elite runners is what I love about working with all of my clients: they love their dogs. “Many of the athletes and all of the coaches have dogs that we love like children,” says Trina Painter, assistant coach of Team USA Arizona, which includes many of these athletes. “They protect us, love us when we’re happy and sad, greet us with licks whether we’re sweaty or clean. They run with us and play with us. They keep us laughing with their silly faces and tricks and speak to us with their expressive eyes and body language. They are, for many of the runners, their best friend and source of unconditional love each day, and a wonderful warm and furry positive distraction from running.”
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Don't leave me!
Q Charley, a rescued three year- old Lab who’d spent his entire life in an outdoor kennel, was scared of everything when we first got him. He’s been with us for eight months and now, he panics when we leave him alone. We have two crates, one in our house and one in our car. He goes into the home crate and stays there for about an hour. I’ve been gradually closing the door and even leaving the house, and when I come back, he’s fine. However, when we leave him in his car crate, he just loses it, so distraught that he’s destroyed a crate bed and a quilt. Is this separation anxiety? We adore him and want to help him, but what can we do?
A Charley is obviously suffering from a form of separation distress, which is not uncommon for a dog who has spent so much of his life in relative isolation. Fear of abandonment and the desire to seek reattachment are what drive some dogs into a panic when left alone, and the resulting destructive behavior is a manifestation of this desperate feeling.
Extensive research has shown that dogs suffer from the same kinds of fears, phobias and anxieties as do humans, even experiencing the canine equivalent of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It would not surprise me if Charley were suffering from a version of PTSD, which could be triggered by being left alone in novel places, even in a car that he knows. Dogs who become distressed when left alone typically do not do well in confined spaces such as crates, and in Charley’s case, it’s obvious that his anxiety is a result of his previous confinement.
You seem to have made good progress desensitizing Charley to the crate in your home, and a similar routine needs to be adopted for the crate in your car. Until he is completely comfortable being in the car without you, it’s better for him to stay at home, where he feels secure. If you try leaving him in the car too early in the process, he will revert to his former behavior, so it is vital that the following training steps be implemented slowly.
To begin with, show Charley that being in the car is a good thing. At various times during the day, walk him to where your car is parked and either feed him his favorite food in the car or play his favorite game around it. Open the doors and sit next to him while he is in his crate, with the crate door open so he can leave if he wants. Allowing him the freedom to make choices will help increase his confidence. Give him a durable rubber toy stuffed with food to chew when he’s in the crate. If, however, he decides to leave, gently take the toy from him and place it in the crate again, showing him that’s where he gets the nice stuff!
If Charley is comfortable in the crate while you drive, take him to a variety of places and repeat the exercise, which will help him learn that being in the car with you in different environments is a good thing. Only when you see that Charley is eager to be in the car crate with the door open should you start closing the door for short periods while you sit with him. Gradually increase the length of time the door is closed.
It goes without saying that a dog should never be left in a car when the weather’s warm (or very cold). In direct sunlight, a car can heat up within minutes, even on relatively cool days. If you know that you will be running errands or going to dinner, leave Charley at home.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Does he try to tell you so?
Our old dog would let us know when he wanted to go to bed. Around 10 pm, if we had not headed upstairs for bedtime, he had a routine he went through. We interpreted his actions as an attempt to communicate his desire that we all turn in for the night.
The first step was to walk over to either my husband or to me and yawn conspicuously. Next, he would walk to the bottom of the stairs, turn towards us, yawn again, and enjoy a big stretch. He typically yawned and stretched at the bottom of the stairs a few times. He next tried putting his front paws on the steps and turning his head towards us with the hint of a whine in his yawn.
We have always gone to bed on our schedule, not according to the dog’s whims, but we enjoyed his all-too-obvious attempts to get us to go to bed. He never chose to go to bed without us. Perhaps he wanted to remain in our company, or perhaps he was afraid of missing out on something fun if he left the party early.
Does your dog let you know that he is ready to go to bed?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
No wonder some feel like biting
“So many small dogs bite when people try to pet them or pick them up. Is it any wonder?” This was my reply to a friend who posted on her Facebook page that she is not a small dog and told the world, “Please don’t pet me.” My friend is 4 foot 11, and not surprisingly, has therefore dealt with this kind of offensive treatment before.
People react differently to little individuals of a species than to large ones. Part of this may be a tendency to equate smaller with younger, and part may be a general disrespect for small versus big.
Many small dogs truly suffer as a result of these attitudes and behavior. Unwelcome and unsolicited petting is harder to discourage when directed at a smaller dog. There’s something about their diminutive size that makes many people, including kids, want to touch them and feel as though they can do so, whether the dog likes it or not. For dogs who love petting by friends and strangers alike, this is not a problem, but not all dogs appreciate this degree of familiarity.
And while large dogs are picked up only occasionally (if ever) to lift them into a car, onto a grooming or examination table, or in the event of an injury, small dogs may face this indignity multiple times daily.
I remember one client with a papillon who was growling and biting everyone in the house, but only when he was picked up. One of the first questions I asked them was how many times a day they picked him up, and the answer once they added up everyone’s contribution was around 40 times a day. They picked him up when he was playing, eating, sleeping, walking, stretching and every other time. While many dogs would never bite even when treated like this, I was full of sympathy for this dog. His biting behavior was unacceptable and had to stop, but much of the change had to come from the people. Following my suggestions, they massively reduced the number of times he was picked up, and they conditioned him to associate being picked up with receiving his favorite tasty treats. The dog no longer bites even when he is picked up, whether it’s by members of the family who rarely do it, or by visitors who automatically respond to this little dog’s charms by reaching for him.
Do you have a small dog who people pick up or pet despite your dog’s desire that this not happen? Are you a small person who SO knows what these dogs are going through?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
It’s not just true with dogs
“It’s time to line up.” Upon hearing this once, 30 kids who had been happily engaged in soccer matches were immediately racing at top speed across the field to line up with their teams. They formed straight lines quickly and cheerfully, just like they do every time their coaches tell them to.
Is this a particularly good group of children? Are they all the type that do what they’re told right away just because they want to please? Of course not! The group is just as mixed in behavioral tendencies as any normal group of kids. They are displaying desirable behavior because they have been reinforced for doing so.
Specifically, at British Soccer Camps, the coaches reinforce the campers by awarding points in their imaginary World Cup competition. The greatest number of points (10) is given to the first team to line up properly, which shows that this behavior is most highly valued. By comparison, the winning team in a match receives 3 points and the “man of the match” (the player who is singled out for excellent play, fine sportsmanship, consistent effort or any other commendable behavior the coach chooses to recognize) earns 2 points for his team. Team effort is more highly prized than individual effort.
In a similar way, when I train dogs, I use the most highly valued reinforcement for the most important behavior I am working on, which is often recalls. When a dog comes when called during training, the reinforcement may be a new toy, a stuffed Kong, going for a walk, multiple treats, or anything else that is highly desired. Because this behavior is so important, I reinforce it very strongly.
“You get the behavior you reinforce” is as fundamental a truth in dog training as it is in any situation that involves teaching and influencing behavior. At soccer camp, many of the parents comment that the coaches are so good with kids, and that’s certainly true. I see it from a very specific perspective though: These coaches are well-versed in using positive reinforcement to get the behavior they want. (Another way to think of this is that the coaches themselves are well trained by the organization and its experts.) Positive reinforcement works, and it makes camp fun for all. When the same techniques are used in dog training, the results are identical: It works, and it makes the experience fun for everyone, whether two-legged or four-legged.
News: Guest Posts
Why so many dogs love being rubbed on the rear
I’m half-asleep. I can hear the “tip-tap” sound of Daisy’s nails on the wood floor. I open my eyes just a millimeter, and see Daisy’s face right in front of mine. Her chin is resting on the edge of the bed, and her expectant face moves gently from side to side with the movement of her wagging tail. It’s time to wake up and eat and walk—the best time of the day!
I reach out to pet her cute head and, suddenly, there it is: The Rump. Or, more precisely, Daisy’s luxurious, wagging tail and poised hindquarters. Right in my face. She cranes her head around to look at me, as if to say, “Well?”
Like many dogs, Daisy loves a good, solid rubbing on her rear. She loves it as much as tummy rubs—sometimes maybe more. What is it about that area that drives dogs mad with pleasure?
According to Dr. Bonnie Beaver, professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University, the answer is very simple.
“The reason most dogs like their rears scratched is because that is a very hard area for them to reach themselves,” Beaver says. “Think about the hardest place you have to reach in the middle of your back, and how nice it is if someone will scratch that for you.”
This explains the pleading eyes and subsequent looks of rapture.
Keep an eye out, though, for signs that your pup’s posterior-petting obsession isn’t just a good time. Beaver says to look for excessive scratching, a bad odor, or bald spots.
Rear-rubs aren’t universally loved, either. Some dogs are not especially pleased by a rump-scratch, and move away, growl or snap when a well-meaning human touches their hips too directly.
“A few dogs are just not into being touched in many places and don’t appreciate the help,” Beaver says.
However, if your dog is one of the rump-scratch lovers, remember that you’re doing them a big favor—even though sometimes you’d prefer to stick with a nice ear scratch or chin rub. They’d return that favor if they could.
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