Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What a joy!
Dogs bring us joy. It’s that simple and that beautiful. It doesn’t even have to be a dog I know for the happiness to come my way. This weekend, I read about a three-legged dog named Onyx who is learning to surf. To surf! I have all the legs nature originally gave me, and I have to tell you, my experience with surfing is far more about falling in the water at strange angles and velocities than it is about smoothly riding the perfect wave.
I felt such joy learning about this dog enjoying himself on the water, when surely many would have doubted that it was possible. Onyx is in a happy home, now, but when he was found five months ago, he was attached to a wooden post and his leg was a bloody mess. The veterinarian and orthopedic specialist who is now his guardian was worried he wouldn’t even make it to surgery much less survive it because he was severely dehydrated and septic. And now he’s romping, playing and surfing.
His story tells of a more dramatic turnaround than many dogs experience, but he’s not alone in doing things that seemed doubtful at one time. Over the years, I’ve had many clients whose dogs had behavioral issues and were able, after hard work, to do things that they wouldn’t have believed possible. To hear someone express joy that they can take their dog out on uneventful neighborhood walks now even though the dog used to bark-lunge and go crazy at the sight of a dog even a block away thrills me. And the happiness people feel now that their formerly frightened dog accepts visitors to the house without shrieking and hiding is a happiness I share with them.
Anytime a dog achieves something, it’s a cause for celebration, but that’s especially true when it’s the end result of an uphill battle. What does your dog—with however many legs—do that you or other people might have considered unlikely or even impossible, but that is now a source of joy to you both?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What do you think?
Are there differences between the behavior of big dogs and the behavior of little dogs? There are obviously all sorts of influences on behavior, some of which may be confounded with size while others are not, and there are statistical issues with asking about size, but that doesn’t take away the fun of thinking about the differences in the behavior of large and small dogs.
Bark editor-in-chief Claudia Kawczynska has asked me to address this subject in my next behavior column, which I’m really excited about! Though I have some thoughts about this, I’m most interested in knowing what YOU think.
I’m particularly interested in observations by anyone who has worked with a lot of dogs of all sizes—trainers, behaviorists, groomers, veterinarians and any other canine professionals as well as people who have been guardians to many dogs. But if you have comments based on just one or a couple of dogs, that’s great, too!
I’m so curious what you think, and your opinions on the following questions or any insights at all will be most welcome.
DOES size influence canine behavior, and if so, how?
What does being a big dog person versus a small dog person mean to you?
Do people treat large and small dogs differently?
How does guardian behavior toward dogs of unequal sizes influence their dogs’ behavior? (This question is of interest to scientists. There’s a 2010 research paper called “Behaviour of smaller and larger dogs: Effects of training methods, inconsistency of owner behaviour and level of engagement in activities with the dog”.)
Are there different expectations of dogs based on their size?
If you were seeking a dog of a certain size, was behavior a factor in that wish?
I look forward to hearing from you!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Social facilitation alive and well
When I have a dog with me, I am more popular at the elementary school than on any other occasion. At times, I have brought cupcakes and other treats to school, and the dog is a bigger draw by far. Marley came with me when I went to pick my kids up from school last week, and it became apparent that dogs may just be the best social facilitators ever.
I met some parents I’d never talked to before. Some said something along the lines of, “He’s very well-behaved” or “I wish my dog were so easy to have out in public,” but the conversations often moved on to unrelated topics. As a result, I made one new friend who I am meeting for coffee next week, and there are more people I can greet by name at school pick-up and other events than before.
Nearly every child I know and many I don’t came up to talk to me, and to tell me stories about their own pets. I love when kids ask if they may pet my dog, which is a lesson that more and more children seem to have learned. It’s charming when kids say, in that endearingly simple way of the young, “I like your dog” or “Your dog is cute.” My kids love showing off Marley’s training skills by asking him to perform a trick such as high-five or crawl.
Does your dog cause smiles and social mingling?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
The source of a lifetime of learning
As I write this, I have just come back from a day at the 2011 World Herding Dog Trials in northern England. I was in the UK once many years ago, watching the International Sheepdog Trials. I was just getting started with sheepdogs and had not yet begun to work as a behaviorist. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot, and I hope to learn a lot more in the future. But the lessons I’ve been taught by herding dogs are as timeless as they are valuable, and are a fitting subject for my last regular column for The Bark.
Rewind the video to 1981, and imagine a dog and a sheep, nose to nose. Kate, a tiny, all-black Border Collie, and Number 437, a fluffy, white Cheviot sheep, are having a discussion about where the ewe should go next. This is where it all started for me: watching a Border Collie face-off with a sheep who had no intention of backing up.
Still in school, searching for a topic for a senior honors thesis at the University of Madison, I tumbled into the world of sheepherding much like Alice fell down the rabbit hole. Dr. Jeffrey Baylis, the professor who later became my dissertation advisor, suggested that I investigate a “natural form” of communication between humans and other animals rather than communication with dolphins as I had initially suggested.
Days later, I stood in a field a few miles north of Madison and watched Kate streak away from trainer/handler Jack Knox toward a flock of sheep on a far hill. As is so often true for each of us, I didn’t know that this one brief moment would change my life. All I was aware of at the time was the way my heart swelled as I watched the little dog run in a wide, sweeping circle up an emerald-green hill, stopping behind a cloud of wooly white sheep. I thought I’d never seen anything so beautiful in my life. Thirty years later, I haven’t changed my mind.
It was sheepdogs who got me started in dog training and behavior, and sheepdogs who continue to inspire and instruct me. Herding may be a relatively rare activity — it’s hard to raise a flock of sheep in downtown Chicago — but its lessons are relevant to anyone who loves dogs. I offer them here in the hope that, in some way, they will mean as much to you as they have to me.
First, and perhaps too obvious to mention, dogs need clarity. Since we don’t share a common language, that’s not always easy. Heaven knows, it’s hard enough for two humans to communicate clearly, much less individuals of different species. Here’s an example from the world of sheepdogs of the challenges we face. Years ago, I had nothing but trouble when I was learning to work with a dog to split off (or “shed”) some sheep from the main group. It’s hard enough to develop the finesse required to separate a couple of sheep from the flock, but you also have to let your dog know which group he is required to move away. Time after time, I’d “tell” Luke to drive away one group and like clockwork, he would focus on the other. I’d be left standing open-mouthed, thinking, No, no! Not THAT one, the other one! How could he get it wrong? I’d use a crystal-clear sweeping arm movement, look directly at the group I wanted him to move and say “That one.” And Luke would make a 180-degree turn and drive away the other group.
It took someone who knew dogs far better than I to sort it out. “Where are your feet pointing?” he asked, after watching me unsuccessfully attempt to shed off some sheep at a clinic. “My feet? Do I have feet? I’m too busy with my eyes, my head and my arm to think about my feet.” Agility handlers around the world are smiling here, having learned, as I finally did, that dogs will most reliably go in the direction your feet are pointing, not where your arm or face directs. Sure enough, although I’d been pointing and looking toward the chosen group, my feet had been pointing the other way. To Luke, it was obvious which group I wanted; I can only imagine his frustration when he followed my instructions and then learned that, somehow, he hadn’t done what I wanted in spite of my “clear communication.”
Examples of inadvertent miscommunication between a person and a dog are endless. I have a litany of my own, which prevents any smugness I might be tempted to feel as I watch clients confuse their dogs. This issue of clarity of communication is surely the most basic and critical aspect of a good and respectful relationship. It is not a simple one, involving as it does many aspects of behavior — from understanding canine ethology, being able to “read” dogs, knowing how to use operant and classical conditioning and teaching dogs how to behave in an alien society.
The second lesson is best illustrated by yet another mistake I made, albeit a more amusing one. At least, it’s amusing now — not so much then. Picture a blue-sky autumn day and a festival of all things Scottish outside of Milwaukee. My friend, Nancy Rafetto, and I had been asked to do a herding/ retrieving demonstration for the Milwaukee Highland Games. It was great fun for everyone: people enjoyed watching the dogs and Nancy and I got to teach under-the-radar science by illustrating the genetic predispositions of different breeds. Her Golden Retriever returned any objects that she threw but play-bowed to the sheep, while my Border Collie, ignoring the balls, collected the sheep and returned them to me. First, we’d work each dog separately; then we’d throw a ball into the middle of the flock, send out both dogs simultaneously, and watch the retriever barrel through the sheep to retrieve the object and the herding dog gather the flock together again. At least, that was the plan. We’d done it before in a variety of environments and it was always a crowd-pleaser.
However, this time, I violated a basic rule of working with animals: be prepared. I had forgotten my whistle, which allows us to communicate with dogs when they are a good distance away and is far better than using vocal commands in a noisy environment. I remembered my whistle on our way to the festival, but thought, Oh, it’ll be fine. Famous last words in behavior and training, hey? It probably would have been fine, since Luke was well trained to verbal signals, but just before I sent him to gather the flock, a marching band struck up right behind us. I couldn’t hear myself think, much less communicate with Luke. The sheep were about 100 yards away, and I paused; they were enclosed by a tall, dense hedge, and I thought they would stay on the field until the band took a breath and Luke could hear my signals.
To my abject horror and the obvious amusement of the crowd, the sheep melted into and through the hedge like cartoon animals moving through a solid wall into another dimension. Nancy was left to entertain the crowd while I ran across the field, pushed through the hedge with Luke and looked desperately for my sheep in what was now a suburban neighborhood complete with sidewalks; multicolored, one-story houses; and two-car garages. We finally found the sheep on the porch of a blue ranch-style house. We pursued them into and out of the garage (I swear I heard someone say “Marge, I think there are sheep in our driveway”) and eventually drove them back through the hedge. The crowd had given up by then, and Nancy and I tucked our tails and drove home. We were not asked back the next year.
Not everyone has been as foolish as I, but it is universally true that one of the most important differences between professionals and the general public is the level of preparation. People experienced in the world of dogs think ahead: They think about where the new dog will sleep at night and are ready with X-pens or crates. They have treats by the door for dogs who are fearful of strangers. If they have a puppy, they have a toy in their pocket so they are always ready to divert the pup’s attention from the slippers to something more appropriate. They close the door to the guest room to prevent accidents, and are ready to neutralize urine smells if they find a puddle. It becomes second nature to always have something available to reinforce good behavior and, if possible, to prevent problems from happening in the first place.
The third lesson from sheepdogs comes from a friend, who was on the U.S. National Team for the 2011 World Sheepdog Trials. Peg Anderson had taken her two dogs, Silk and Spot, to England early enough to be able to practice for several days on the hills with local sheep. Although she lives on what I consider to be the perfect farm, with a large, open field ideal for competition practice, she and her dogs needed time to adjust to the new conditions of an unfamiliar country. For the first time in their lives, Peg’s dogs were doing exactly what they had been bred for. Not just herding sheep any which way, but gathering a large flock of sheep scattered like polka dots on a green hill that rose up so high it hurt your neck to look at the top. The dog streams up and up and up like water in reverse, coalescing the sheep into a unified group at the top. Then the entire flock flows down the hill like a wooly white ribbon.
There’s something about the scope of it all that takes your breath away, and apparently it had a profound effect on one of her dogs as well. Peg reported that Spot gained confidence and enthusiasm every day he was there. Like my Willie, Spot didn’t like the pressure that Midwestern sheep and tight spaces often put on a dog, but the f lighty sheep on the big, open hills of northern England brought out the best in him. He came home with more confidence than ever, and has retained it ever since.
The lesson here is not that we should feel guilty if we can’t go to England to work our Border Collies, or arrange for our Chesapeake Bay Retrievers to break ice to retrieve ducks. It is, however, a cautionary note with two parts: One, dog breeds were created not for looks but for behavior, and we need to do a better job of matching a dog’s needs with the environment in which he or she will ultimately live. Two, all dogs, no matter how pure or eclectic their breeding, are individuals. Spot blossomed on the big hills of northern England, but Peg’s other dog, Silk, changed little. She may have enjoyed her time across the pond, but it didn’t affect her like it did Spot. Two Border Collies, two individuals.
Understanding both aspects of canine behavior — breed-related predispositions and unique individual natures — should perhaps be common sense, but in my experience, common sense isn’t actually very, well, common. “No,” I’d say to far too many clients, “please don’t get a German Shorthaired Pointer for your elderly parents who live in downtown San Francisco,” and “Yes, I know that Labradors are generally friendly, social dogs, but your Labrador is a bit shy and sound-sensitive and will not enjoy flyball, no matter how hard you try.”
The final lesson is perhaps the most important of all.
Sometimes a sheep will face off with a dog: head to head, eye to eye, just inches between them. She will put her head down so far that her nose is almost touching the dog’s muzzle, and then feint forward. Insecure dogs panic and charge, causing the sheep to scatter like deer or, worse, to fight the dog in a nasty contest between sharp teeth and an anvil-like skull. In sheepherding circles, we call that a “wreck,” because rarely does any good come of it. But the best dogs, the great dogs, stand motionless, never flicking an ear or withdrawing an inch. It may take one second or it may take 20, but eventually, the ewe will sense the dog’s commitment, and turn her nose, twitch her ears and back away.
These dogs are models for those of us enmeshed in the controversies surrounding how best to raise and train our four-legged best friends. Those who believe that dogs deserve to be treated with respect and understanding need to stand firm, quiet and confident in our commitment. If I were queen and could change one thing right now in the dog world, it would be to give people the confidence they need to be openminded and not over-reactive to challenges, while standing strong for what they believe is right.
Like great sheepdogs, those of us who believe in knowledge and respect need to be calm but confident, patient but resolute. One by one, day by day, the naysayers of the training world will turn their heads and find their way into the fold.
With gratitude and thanks to the editors and readers of Bark magazine, I say, “That’ll do, friends, that’ll do.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Did you and your child get a new puppy?
Even though most experts think it’s not a good idea, many children receive puppies as holiday gifts. Whether or not a child’s new puppy was a surprise or planned well in advance, there are many ways to help children raise the new family member so she will develop into a happy, healthy dog. Here are ten tips for doing right by the new puppy in a child’s life.
1. Help your child. Don’t rely on a child to do all the care and work. Always supervise, even though all parents know that it’s sometimes more work to monitor what your kids are doing than it is to just do it yourself. Adults must be a big part of the dog’s care and training. On a related note, if everyone shares the less popular jobs (backyard poop, anyone?), most kids respond favorably to the fairness.
2. Help your puppy to succeed. Limit her access to just part of the house and thoroughly puppy-proofing those areas. It’s easier to prevent bad habits from forming than to try to change those bad habits later on. Encourage your children to be responsible about closing doors and gates.
3. Take house training seriously. At all times, a puppy who is still learning where the potty is should be: 1) Confined to a crate or small puppy-proofed area, 2) Outside with someone who is ready to offer excellent treats along with praise as soon as she eliminates, 3) Inside being watched constantly for any signs that she needs to relieve herself. What about other situations? There are none!
4. Play with your puppy. Play provides so many benefits—fun, mental exercise, learning life skills, training possibilities, exercise, and the opportunity to develop a great relationship with your puppy. Few activities offer the bang for your buck that playing with a puppy does. Among the best games for kids and dogs are fetch and hide-and-seek. Tug and chase games are best for adults only since they can result in puppies who are highly aroused, which can lead to trouble, even with nice kids and nice dogs.
5. Provide toys and chews. Puppies tend to be very busy, and it’s always wise to teach your dog what she is allowed to put in her mouth and what is off limits. Teach kids to leave dogs alone when they are chewing on something. Many dogs tolerate people bothering them when they have a treasure, but even if yours does, it’s unwise to let a child think that approaching a dog with a chew toy is okay, because another dog may react badly. Children should learn to respect dogs’ space and puppies should learn to entertain themselves.
6. Train the puppy. Training a dog to be a polite member of society is an ongoing process, but it’s never too early to start. Get off on the right paw by prioritizing and starting to teach your puppy a few cues. I like to begin with teaching a new puppy her name, to come when called, to sit and lie down on cue, and to wait at the door. Also important are greeting people properly with all four paws on the floor, walking nicely on a leash, and to stay. It’s ideal to have adults teach the puppies new cues before the kids use the cues with the puppy.
7. Have each child be in charge of teaching one trick to the puppy. Great options include roll over, high-5, and crawl. Trick training is fun and great for the relationship between kids and puppies, but it’s low pressure since there’s not a lot riding on whether or not the puppy can perform the trick well. It allows kids to be involved in the training without any risk of setbacks on something as important as a reliable recall.
8. Take a family dog training class. Everyone can attend and learn how to train from an professional, which means that the kids have an outside person, rather than Mom or Dad, who is instructing them. Choose a class that is taught by a qualified person using humane training methods.
9. Provide opportunities to exercise. Typical puppies need a minimum of two 45-minute sessions a day of high-level exercise, plus many additional short walks or backyard play sessions. Off-leash romps in safe places are ideal.
10. Let your dog make new friends. Arrange for canine play dates with one or two social, polite dogs or puppies at a time. Not just any play partner will do. They must be dogs who play nicely and never frighten or overwhelm your puppy. The risk of that is too high at the dog park, so I would avoid such places with a puppy. Adults must supervise play sessions, as it’s unfair to ask a child to monitor the emotions and arousal level of the puppy.
If your family was blessed with a new puppy this holiday season, congratulations to you! Enjoy this magical time with an individual who has only been on the planet for a short time. Treasure moments such as watching the joy on your child’s face match the joy on the puppy’s face. As for the moments that are less joyous, such as leaving a cozy bed at 5 AM to head out into a snowstorm with a puppy who needs to pee, remember this: Puppyhood is brief and wonderful, but it’s okay during rough moments to consider that it is wonderfully brief.
News: Guest Posts
Here is a recap of the study we discussed in Part 1, Oh, hello! Why yes, that's my crotch *:
Crotch factoid #1: A dog enters a room, sees his owner lying on the floor, and he gives considerable attention to his owner's upper body.
Why the difference? Why is a stranger's crotch initially so much more interesting than mine?
Let's first consider why owners' crotches were initially not sniffed. It's possible that dogs do not sniff owners' crotches because owners have taught them not to!
For many humans, crotch sniffing is considered irritating, embarrassing and offensive. Not surprisingly, 1,009 people "like" the facebook page, I Hate Dogs That Sniff My Crotch.
In response, the web suggests ways to prevent crotch sniffing. Some suggest teaching the dog to perform a behavior incompatible with crotch sniffing (such as lying down) and others suggest using words or actions to dissuade the dog from crotch sniffing. Regardless of the training method, it is plausible owners could eliminate crotch sniffing from their dog's owner-directed behavioral repertoire.
At the same time, it seems highly unlikely that an owner would train a dog not to sniff the owner's own crotch, yet allow dogs to continue sniffing strangers' crotches. Since the study under consideration found lots of stranger-directed crotch action, what could be going on?
A better explanation comes from the olfactory content of the human body. We are aware of some of our odors, such as BO, and others evade our consciousness. This is where dogs come in.
Dog + Stranger's Crotch
For dogs, crotch sniffing had nothing to do with getting to third base. Instead, it is more akin to looking over a business card. One of the places we humans keep our business cards is in our crotches, in a set of glands called the apocrine glands. While apocrine glands are found in a number of hairy regions of the human body, they are heavily concentrated in the anogenital (crotch) region. These glands secrete pheromones **, chemicals that enable olfactory communication with others, particularly concerning identity. Investigating a stranger's crotch simply orients a dog to the individuality of that person.
Dog + Owner
Of note: You, the human reading this blog, release volatile organic compounds, or VOCs***. Your breath, for example, contains many VOCs which are both generated by your own body and picked up from the environment at large. In a sense, you are a walking science experiment, picking up odors and producing them on your own, and a dog who knows you is immediately interested in smelling your chemicals.
Whether a stranger to a dog or its owner, we humans are odorous sacks of information, and dogs will sniff many different parts of our bodies. But during an initial interaction with either a known or unknown person, dogs differ in their preliminary points of contact.
This holiday season, will you be sharing your business card with dogs?
Many thanks to Tom Brownlee for always setting me straight when it comes to scent and olfaction.
**Grammer et al., 2004. Human pheromones and sexual attraction. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 118, 135-142.
***Martin et al., 2010. Human breath analysis: methods for sample collection and reduction of localized background effects. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 396, 739-750.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
In your room? In your bed? In your arms?
Dogs are social animals. Most of them feel comfortable being near the rest of the family and that includes at nighttime. Humans, too, often enjoy having their canine companions with them while they sleep.
Many people have their dogs in their room on a dog bed, in a crate or on the floor by the bed. Others allow them the foot of the bed. Still others snuggle with their pup right next to them, even under the covers.
The advantages to having your dog near you while you sleep are many. They are less likely to become stressed either by being alone or in response to something startling, whether it’s lights from cars going by or a thunderstorm. In the morning, you’ll know when they have to go out right away or if they are sleeping in that day without having to leave your bed to check.
If your dog is in or on your bed, any cold weather will seem a lot less harsh with a living furnace right next to you. Sharing sleep is one way to feel really close to each other, and that’s always a plus.
On the down side, some people find a dog keeps them awake, either because the dog snores, or because there is not enough room in the bed or enough covers to go around. It can cause considerable friction in a relationship if one member of a couple loves having a dog in the room or on the bed and the other person doesn’t.
I like having dogs sleep in my room, and I think it’s usually best for the dogs, too. Large dogs, those who hog the bed and dogs who crawl all over us at night have a standing invitation to enjoy a cozy dog bed on the floor next to me. Little dogs, calm dogs and dogs who won’t impersonate a cat by trying to play with us in the middle of the night have usually been permitted on the bed.
Where does your dog sleep and why?
Kiki loves winter. He wears the season like a second skin. As I write this story at my kitchen table, he’s probably outside, lapping up the Canadian cold.
The snow delights and confounds him. It’s a mystery substance he futilely tries to solve by his powers of jaw and claw. Shovel snow off the backyard deck, and, as it powders through the air, he’ll discombobulate himself in a slacktongued fool’s quest to catch it in his mouth, cartwheeling on no fixed axis. Then he’ll go to the spot where it landed and he’ll dig, dig, dig, mining for that one elusive snowflake, and in the end, yet again, hit dirt rather than pay dirt.
In the park, he’ll bound through the thick snow like Tigger (who, let’s face it, is much more dog than cat). He seems to feel he owns the whitened park in a way that’s not true when the green grass is growing. Maybe it’s simply because there are fewer dogs outdoors on the cold days, for their owners’ sakes. Arriving back home, he’ll want out into the yard, so he can sit in the cold for hours, surveying his white realm like a little polar bear on the edge of an ice shelf, sniffing the air for scent of seal or squirrel. And at the end of the day, he’ll lie not at the fireside but by the front door, to feel its chill draft sneaking onto his back.
When I was in better shape, circa 1842, I’d take Kiki for cold runs around the reservoir in our town north of Toronto. I’d let him loose on the wooded paths as I plodded along in my 18 layers of gear. He would use the paths as a departure point for explorations of who knows what, and by the end of the run he’d be dressed in snowy icicles. He was happy.
I don’t know how he got this way. He’s a Bichapoo, not a breed apt to be confused with Samoyed or Husky. And he was born in June, so it’s not like winter is the first thing he knew. Maybe it’s my fault for leaving White Fang lying around where he could read it. Maybe he really is a miniature polar bear. Beyond that, I’m stumped.
Kiki loves winter, and that’s why he’s not our dog anymore. I landed a job in Abu Dhabi, fast-growing capital of the United Arab Emirates. In this Phoenix of Arabia, temperatures reach 120ºF in August. And it’s humid.
At first we planned on bringing him with us. But then I went ahead to Abu Dhabi while my wife and daughter stayed in Canada to, respectively, wrap up our affairs and finish the school term. I saw how scarce dogs are in the UAE, and we feared the heat could prove fatal to Kiki during the summer months. He’d known nothing like it during his first five years — what if he couldn’t adjust?
And so, when I returned to Canada for a week in December to gather up my family, we drove Kiki to his new home in a new town, with outdoorsy friends who we know will take good care of him. We visited for an hour, and gave them a rundown of his habits (yes, he gets his own stocking at Christmas). Then his new dad and sister took him for a walk in the snow. I could see his tail in the air as they went down a hill and out of sight. We got in our car and drove away. We figured it’d be less confusing for him if he didn’t see us leave.
I think we did the right thing by Kiki. It was more responsible to take ourselves away from him than to take him away from winter. But that’s cold comfort when we miss him, all the times we miss him.
News: Guest Posts
Part I: Sniffing researched
The holiday season is in full swing. But before you dive into Aunt Bessie’s famous cookies, you might have to get past a few pinched cheeks and possibly some bad breath.
You know what I'm talking about—from handshakes and hand-kisses, to “man hugs” and double kisses, between now and New Year’s, we humans enter hardcore greeting mode.
Accompanying the acceptable greeting rituals noted above, we also engage in the more discrete variety: the up-and-down glance we get from our sister as we enter the party (I hope she didn’t notice that I’m wearing her bracelet!); the feeling that someone tried to get a look at your shoes without you noticing (of course you noticed). This is what we do. We check each other out.
What about dogs? Come holiday season, any dog who’s a fan of people will most certainly put on his greeting hat. And when dogs are greeting people or checking people out, they tend to go for the crotch. Or do they?
The sniffing investigation
The researchers created a study with two parts. In part one, they observed pet dogs sniffing their owners. In part two, pet dogs sniffed an unknown person. The researchers then studied which human body parts received the most attention from the dogs and their sniffers.
The first thing you are probably wondering: How exactly were people sniffed? (Not something you ask every day.) For the sniffing simulation, the human subjects entered a test room where they lay motionless on the floor with their eyes closed. Once on the floor, the dog entered the room and was observed for five minutes.
To collect the sniffing data, the human body was divided into 10 regions (see below). Researchers could then easily observe where dogs were directing their sniffing. I might add, this mock human has abnormally small feet and nice underwear.
The sniffing report
But there’s more!
Dogs differed in how they sniffed. When it came to sniffing their owners, dogs showed particular interest in the thorax and arms. On the other hand, in the presence of a stranger, dogs focused more on the ano-genital area and thighs. Whether you are more familiar with the terms “privates,” “bits and pieces,” “caboose,” “backdoor,” “flower pot” or “Rocky Mountain Freeway,” no matter how you slice it, dogs were more into sniffing the crotch and thighs of strangers compared to the crotch and thighs of their owners.
For you visual learners, below is a picture detailing the movement of the dog’s muzzle over the body. Top image: sniffing a known person; bottom image: sniffing a stranger. Check out that crotch attention!
So why might your dog get all up in Aunt Bessie’s crotch during the holidays? Simply put, he hasn’t seen her in a year! Maybe if you invited her over for tea more often …
Tune in next time for Part 2: Why is a stranger’s crotch so much more interesting than mine?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A scientist’s observations
We’ve all heard that dogs and 2-year-old children are roughly equivalent in intelligence, but comparing across species is truly an apples and oranges sort of proposition.
I always want to ask about the age of the dog. Why does the human age matter while “dogs” seems to be an ageless concept? And I’m also curious about which dog and which person. Are we talking about a dog who knows 1,000 words or a more typical canine? Albert Einstein or someone less amazing? Whether you consider the basic premise behind the comparison problematic or not, it’s worth checking out, “Is Your Dog Smarter Than a 2-Year-Old?,” a recent opinion piece in The New York Times.
It’s written by Alexandra Horowitz (author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know), who researches canine cognition and has a 2-year-old child. Horowitz starts by expressing her overall view of the assertion, with which I thoroughly agree, “From my perspective as a researcher of canine cognition, it at once overstates and understates dogs’ abilities to claim that they are equal in some unifying, cross-species 'intelligence' to 2-year-olds.”
She then writes that observations of her own 2-year-old child and dog remind her that people make this comparison because of some obvious behavioral similarities. The article takes a look at the behavior of both these individuals over a period of a week with some relevant science added to the mix.
It’s a fun read and is, as Horowitz puts it, “fully quasi-scientific.” She acknowledges that there are issues with making the comparison at all. More entertaining than enlightening, she compares many things that are not actually indicators of intelligence, such as the tendency to use one’s mouth to explore the world and being patient.
Still, I think the value of turning this question on its head as Horowitz has done is to encourage careful observation and to remind us, “There is no ruler that measures both dogs and little boys and girls. Just as a child is more than a young adult, a dog is more than—and much different from—a simple human. You are no more doing your dog a kindness by treating him as a child than you would be in treating your child as a dog.”
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