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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
An Emu Who Acts Like A Dog
Who does she think she is?

An Emu named Emma sometimes acts like her best friend, a dog named Charlie. She fetches, plays with Charlie’s toys, sits when asked to do so, and chases things, just like Charlie does. Her human family says that she thinks she's a dog, and that nobody ever told her she wasn’t. (Emus are Australia’s largest native bird, reaching heights of well over 6 feet.)

  It makes a great story to say that Emma thinks she’s a dog, but it’s hard to justify. The fact that she is exhibiting some typically canine behaviors is fascinating, and surely fun to observe, but there are many reasons why she may act in ways that are similar to dogs other than an identity crisis. Animals are capable of learning a lot from those around them.   Imprinting is a specific type of learning. It is very rapid learning that occurs in a specific phase of life, such as when birds become attached to moving objects soon after hatching and follow them around. This sort of filial imprinting typically applies to ducks and geese, though it can happen in a wide variety of animals. It ensures that the animals follow their parents around, which is critical for survival. It is very likely that Emma the emu has imprinted on Charlie since the family got her when she was so young, and that has given her ample opportunity to observe his behavior.   Observational learning is the learning that occurs by watching others perform behavior that is novel to the observer. Role models are common in many species, and Emma may be exhibiting observational learning with Charlie as her role model for behaviors such as chasing, fetching, playing with toys, etc.   The fact that Emma is performing behaviors that may be more typically seen in dogs than in emus is evidence of the fact that the environment strongly influences behavior. So Emma’s potential behavioral repertoire is quite large, but the environment that she is in (a dog is present) results in a particular set of behaviors out of all those that are possible. Emma’s behavior suggests that emus have the capability to learn those dog-like behaviors, but that in their usual social environment, they don’t develop.   So, I’m not convinced that Emma “thinks she’s a dog.” I think that she is an emu whose behavior is perhaps a bit unusual for members of her species, but clearly can develop in the right situation. I also think this is one of the coolest stories I’ve read in a long time, and I wish that I could see Emma myself. She sounds like a very hip bird!
News: Guest Posts
Dangerous Dog Breed List Has No Bite
Daily Beast fearmongering should be muzzled

I don’t know how to break it to my family and friends, but there’s a Pit Bull mix and two Dalmatians in my house! According to the Daily Beast, I should be scared to death to live among the #1 and #11 most dangerous dog breeds, respectively.

Just because you don’t have one of the common banned breeds—Dobermans, Rottweilers, German Shepherds—you think you’re safe? Greyhounds, Border Collies, Labrador Retrievers, Old English Sheepdogs, Beagles, Golden Retrievers and Poodles all made the list of 39 dangerous dog breeds. Guess all of us dog lovers should run for our lives!

The irreverent online news digest (founded by former Vanity Fair and The New Yorker editor Tina Brown), attempts to persuade the reader at how much research went into creating its “39 Most Dangerous Dog Breeds” list.

Problem is, it relied on a faulty study—which had been discredited several years ago—as its main source. Not to mention, both the Centers for Disease Control and the American Veterinary Medical Association have stated that breed is not the primary indicator for a bite. As most dog lovers and professional dog trainers know, socialization, training and supervision are key to bite prevention.

When glancing through the photo gallery illustrating the 30 breeds, be sure to note the breed name as printed because the Daily Beast posted photos that do not match the breed listed. For example, the Bull Mastiff “pictured” is a Dogue de Bordeaux, and both the Australian Shepherd and the Collie feature photos of what appear to be Border Collies. Perhaps if the Daily Beast had focused more on finding accurate breed photos than digging up muzzled and mean dog pics, readers could take this pet project a little more seriously.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Howling Dogs, Crying Babies
What are these interactions all about?

A common theme for You Tube videos of dogs and babies is dogs who howl when a baby was crying. Interestingly, the dogs’ vocalizations often have a calming affect on the babies. Here are two videos in which a crying baby and a howling dog are in close proximity. In the first one, a dog is howling while a baby cries in a bassinet, and it seems as though the baby stops crying in response to the dog’s vocalizations.

  In the second video, a dog and a baby are lying on a blanket on the floor and both are making a lot of noise. Though more subtle, it again appears as though the baby’s response to the dog’s howling is to stop crying for a brief moment.

  It’s really anybody’s guess what is going on in these interactions. There are a lot of experts commenting on them, but without knowing more about the contexts and the individuals involved, it’s just guesswork. To really know what was happening, I would need to know if the baby and the dog usually act like this or if it was just a one-time event. I’d also want to know what works for soothing the babies when the dogs aren’t involved, and what other sounds or situations make the dogs howl.   Here are some possibilities about what is going on, but as I said, it’s not possible to know for certain which explanations are correct. It’s highly likely that a totally different interpretation is the right one.   Baby The baby stops crying because he likes the howling. The baby stops crying because he likes any loud noise The baby stops crying because the howling startles him. The cessation of the baby’s crying has nothing to do with the howling at all.   Dog The dog howls because she likes to join in with the baby’s “howling.” The dog howls because she has learned that this gets the baby to quiet down. The dog howls because she doesn’t like being near the baby. The dog howls because she’s trying to get a human’s attention: (“Pick up the baby and make it stop!!!)   What do you think is going on? Do you have experience with a dog and a baby who howl and cry together?
News: Guest Posts
Adopt A Senior Dog
Older, wiser, mellower—what could be better?

Yesterday, on my morning stroll with Lulu and Renzo, I met a couple walking an 11-year-old mutt they had just adopted from the Seattle Humane Society. I use the word mutt as high praise because this dog was shaggy and black with a graying, eternally charming muzzle. I’m a sucker for the type. But I knew she was the sort of dog a person with less imagination or compassion might pass by in a shelter. Just as I was thinking how lucky she was to be adopted at this stage in her life, I looked back at the woman on the other end of the leash. She was beaming. Seriously, thrilled with her new dog. And I realized, of course, there was lots of luck to go around.

  The meeting was auspicious: November is Adopt-A-Senior-Dog Month. Time to spread the word about what makes a senior dog a great addition to a home. Seniors settle in quickly, enjoy a more laid-back schedule, and have already passed through messy puppy stages to name just a few of the many reasons to adopt an older dog. What makes your senior puppy the bomb?

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Halloween Trick-Or-Treaters
Is this a good training opportunity?

It’s common for even the sweetest of dogs to be little devils when visitors come to the door. Some dogs are afraid of visitors, which can cause them to bark, lunge or even bite. Others are simply wild with excitement when people arrive, which often leads to leaping, jumping, barking, spinning and generally being out of control. Either way, it can mean that every time the doorbell rings, people cringe knowing that what’s about to happen may not be pretty.

  The day of days for doorbell ringing is, of course, Halloween. Not only are there loads of visitors, but those visitors are dressed as, among other things, lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my! There are costumes with flashing lights, giant mouths, battery-powered sound effects, and all sorts of weird colors, shapes, sizes and behavior. When dogs are not at their best with visitors anyway, trick-or-treaters are unduly challenging.   Everybody knows that for dogs who struggle to contain themselves when visitors come over, practice dealing with that very situation is a necessary part of improving it. So, I am often asked, “Should I use Halloween night as a training opportunity?” The short answer is “probably not.”   One reason for answering in the negative is that while practice is an essential part of training doors to be polite when visitors arrive, that practice must be in a situation at a level that the dog can handle. Large numbers of excited children will be beyond what most dogs can handle, which means that most dogs will just end up practicing their undesirable behavior rather than practicing the polite behavior we’d like them to exhibit.   Another reason that practicing greetings of visitors on Halloween may be ill-advised is that many dogs react badly because they are fearful of visitors. Trick-or-treaters are bound to be terrifying to dogs since people whose silhouettes are unusual seem to scare most dogs. Masks, capes, giant costumes, carrying bags and other elements of trick-or-treating fashion change people’s silhouettes are scarier to most dogs than the typical tool belts, hats, clipboards and backpacks that fearful dogs react to.   It is especially critical not to use Halloween night as a training session if there is any risk of the dog behaving aggressively to visitors. Most dogs who react badly towards visitors are merely impolite or excessively exuberant, and even that could inadvertently lead to trouble. Trick-or-treaters should not be exposed to the small minority who may actually intentionally try to hurt them.   There are a very few dogs who can benefit from training session on Halloween. Those are the dogs who have worked up to being polite when trick-or-treaters arrive by already showing great success when greeting every other type of visitor, including large groups of people, children, loud people and people dressed a bit oddly. If you’ve worked up to this Holy Grail of training with your dog, perhaps Halloween is an opportunity for you both. If you’re not sure if your dog is ready, the best course of action is to assume that he’s not.   For most people, the only way to make a dog be like Lassie on Halloween is to put him in a Rin Tin Tin costume. So unless your dog has worked up to being ready to handle these toughest types of visitors, don’t plan on training during the trick-or-treating hours. 
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Are Some Dogs Pessimistic?
A new study addresses this question

In a recent study in the journal Current Biology, researchers assert that shelter dogs who show behavior indicative of separation distress tend to be pessimistic, compared with more optimistic dogs who are less likely to exhibit separation-related behavior. I’m going to explain briefly how the experiment was conducted and then discuss my concerns with the researchers’ conclusions.

  In their experiment, 24 shelter dogs were taught that a bowl in one location had food in it, while a bowl in another location was empty. Once the dogs were trained to this paradigm, they were tested to determine whether or not they had a “pessimistic” cognitive bias, or an “optimistic” one. In the test, bowls were placed in locations other than the ones that the dogs had been trained to understand. These ambiguous locations were in the same room as the tests with bowls that had either been empty or containing food during training. The time it took for the dogs to approach the bowls in these new locations was recorded.   Dogs who went quickly to bowls in ambiguous locations were regarded as having an optimism that the bowl would contain food, while dogs who were slow to approach the bowl were considered to be pessimistic about the likelihood that the bowl would contain food.   In another part of the study, these same dogs were observed to determine how much time they spent exhibited separation-related behavior patterns such as vocalizing, destructive chewing, and inappropriate elimination. The researchers found that “pessimistic” dogs showed more separation-related distress than the “optimistic” dogs, and thus concluded that the negative affective state of these pessimistic dogs is correlated with separation distress.   My concern about this study is that I’m not convinced that the time until a dog approaches a bowl in an unknown location indicates optimism versus pessimism. What if degree of curiosity or tendency to fear new things is more relevant, rather than a cognitive decision about the likelihood of food being present? It is even possible that the dogs who were slower to approach the bowls were not as good at generalizing from the learning task or that they spent time considering what to do rather than acting impulsively. Or, perhaps the dogs who were slow to approach the bowls don’t tend to investigate things that are not theirs? (For dogs in home settings, we call this being “well-trained” or “well-behaved.”)   The authors say that the results of the experiment were “unlikely to be explained by running speed/motivation, learning ability, or other dog characteristics” but except for running speed, they did not control for them. The researchers have provided evidence that dogs who are slower to approach a bowl in an ambiguous location are more likely to exhibit signs of separation distress, but I don’t think they have made a strong case that they can conclude more than that. They have not demonstrated a correlation between separation related distress and a pessimistic cognitive bias. There are too many other possible explanations that need to be sorted through and tested for such a claim to be convincing.
News: Guest Posts
Counter Surfer, Caught!
Man videos his unsuspecting Basenji

Ever wonder what your dog is up to when you’re away? I know I’m curious about how my dogs pass the time when I’m gone, especially when I return to find what looks like the aftermath of a fairly epic couch party, but I’ve never gone so far as to deploy the nanny-cam. Thanks to this bit of undercover cinematography, I’m thinking twice about respecting their canine privacy.

News: Guest Posts
Hurricane Leo
Destruction and devastation return with the rains

As the rainy season approaches and the air turns crisp, I become excited for fall. I can finally give up my pipedreams of developing a decent tan and start looking forward to wearing my favorite scarves, boots and coats. The one thing I don’t look forward to is the beginning of hurricane season. While my sympathies go to those living on the Gulf Coast or the Carolinas, I’m talking about a different type of hurricane. This one is named Hurricane Leo.

  Hurricane Leo is the seasonal nickname bestowed upon my three-year-old Schipperke, once the rainy season starts. A spell of shorter, wetter days often means less time to play outside and a frustrated Leo ends up creating entertainment for himself: Rifling through the laundry, licking every strange surface in the house (the toilet? Come on, Lee...), staring out the window and commenting on (barking at) every single thing that moves outside.   This year, hurricane season came early and unexpectedly. I had hired a painting contractor weeks before to come and re-paint the entire interior of my house, and had everything planned out perfectly for weeks. The house would take two days to paint, and during that time I could keep the dogs company outside, sipping lemonade in a hammock while watching them play. It was a perfect plan: Until our heat wave was interrupted with scattered showers and lightning. Not cool.   The dogs and I were forced out of the house, now that every room was covered in fresh paint and plastic-wrapped furniture. The two-day paint job turned into four days, and Tropical Depression Leo slowly began gaining momentum. Leo grew increasingly frustrated with being removed from his normal surroundings and forced to stay indoors all day with me and Skipper at a friend’s apartment. While Leo had no shortage of toys and chewables to keep him occupied, the combination of bad weather and new surroundings created, you guessed it, a Perfect Storm.   As if he could think of no better way to express his feelings and frustrations, Leo jumped up onto my friend’s bed, stood over one of the pillows and peed. For about a minute. Even though he had been given multiple opportunities to potty outside, I truly believe he was saving it up to perform a memorable form of protest, like the sit-ins at U.C. Berkeley in the 1960s or Ghandi’s hunger-strike. Maybe he just was agitated and did something strange, as dogs are known to do when under stress. Needless to say, our welcome was worn out, and (after sopping up as much dog urine as possible and offering to launder my friend’s pillows and duvet) we headed back to my house and took our chances with the painters.             Within minutes of being home, Hurricane Leo escaped my grasp and bolted into the house, running laps through every room and touching nearly every wet surface along the way. I screamed. The painters screamed. Hurricane Leo seemed triumphant with several white streaks along his back and sides. Instead of yelling at him, I rinsed him off, put him in the car, and we drove to an inner East Bay dog park, where there were no storm clouds in sight. While my hurricane season hasn’t hit in full-force yet, I’m wondering what I can do to better prepare Leo (and myself) for the fall and winter. Indoor agility? Daycare? Enrolling Leo in yet another training course? Whatever it takes to keep the hurricane away.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Be Prepared
Plan ahead for emergencies

After attending a canine emergency seminar last year, I put together a first aid kit that included Elizabethan collars, bandages, eye wash, antibacterial ointment and contact information for the emergency vet. I was feeling pretty prepared, though, of course, I hoped that I’d never have to use any of it.

Unfortunately, earlier this week, my dog, Nemo, crashed into our coffee table, injuring his eye. With the first aid kit on hand, I quickly slipped on his Elizabethan collar and drove to the emergency vet. I was horrified when it dawned on me that Nemo had never worn an Elizabethan collar before. So his first experience with the collar involved a frantic car ride, getting prodded at the vet and a thunderstorm that erupted en route to the hospital. I couldn’t even feed him treats just in case they needed to do surgery the next day.

Fortunately Nemo only seemed slightly annoyed, but this situation could have easily been prevented had I taken the time to get him used to the collar beforehand.

The next day at the ophthalmologist’s office, I saw someone struggling to get their dog to stay still on the scale. It was a simple behavior that would have been a piece of cake if they had trained a nose touch or stand.

It got me thinking that there are many behaviors we can teach our pups to help in these situations, such as swallowing pills, wearing a muzzle and opening their mouth for a check-up. Kathy Sdao’s Husbandry Training for Dog Owners article is a good place to start for ideas on teaching some of these helpful behaviors.

Hopefully you’ll never find yourself in a serious emergency, but a little prep will help make them less stressful for both you and your dog.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Just For Fun
Tricks for kicks

A lot of training is simply teaching our dogs to be polite members of both human and canine society. Walking nicely on a leash, proper greetings, coming when called, doing sits, downs and stays on cue and letting children eat ice cream cones without helping are all useful skills that make any dog more pleasant to be around.

  Yet, it’s the fun things we teach our dogs that give many of us the most joy. Even simple tricks such as beg, crawl and rollover provide loads of fun both when we spend the time with our dogs to train them and when we get to show off their tricks to other people.   Some tricks are timeless, taught to each generation of dogs. Other tricks cycle in and out of favor, with certain tricks being popular right now. Among the “in” tricks to train dogs lately are the following:   “Aaachoo!” The dog retrieves a tissue when you sneeze.   “Leg up” To lift a leg as though urinating, but without really doing so.   “Stop, drop, roll and crawl to safety.” To stop, lie down, rollover and then crawl as a demonstration of the fire safety behavior   “Tidy up!” To put each toy into the toy box.   Does your dog have a favorite trick? Is it your favorite as well?

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