Ethologists, those people who study animals’ behavior in their natural habitat, generally feel you need on the order of one thousand hours of observation before you know your study species. No matter how much you read and hear about behavior, there is no substitute for great quantities of time observing members of that species. Sue Sternberg has spent many times the requisite number of hours with dogs, and that is part of the reason that when I was learning how to be a canine behaviorist, she was one of the people from whom I learned the most. Now, the benefits of all those years of learning, observing and interacting with dogs are available to everybody in a whole new format: a video ethogram available from Roundout Valley Animals for Adoption.
An ethogram is a catalog of a species’ entire behavioral repertoire. So, the more a species has been observed, the more complete the list because even rare behavior has been observed. The video ethogram is a great source of information about dog behavior from someone who has spent thousands of hours with dogs and has been diligent about videotaping over the years. Examples of the type of behavior included in the ethogram are the flying shoulder rub, front paw jab and jump with clasp. In a proper ethogram, the names for each behavior are descriptive rather than functional. (That is, a term such as “head turn away” is proper because it’s descriptive, but a term such as “appeasement by avoiding eye contact” is functional and therefore not a proper term for a behavior in an ethogram.) As an ethologist myself, I’m happy to say that Sternberg gets this right: She does a great job describing and documenting the behavior without attributing functions to them.
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.