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Good Dog: Studies & Research
Get Your Puppy Off to a Good Start

There is no disputing the fact that having rich and varied social experiences in the first three months of life improves a puppy’s odds of a growing into balanced, confident dog. Also not in question is the reality that canine under-socialization can result in behavior problems, fear and aggression, all primary reasons for relinquishment and euthanasia in pet dogs.

The window in which the most effective socialization takes place is only open between weeks 3 and 12 of the puppy’s life; then, it slams shut. Given that the last combination vaccine (against distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, parainfluenza and coronavirus) is usually administered when a puppy is 16 weeks old, it’s also the genesis of a dilemma.

Some veterinarians, shelters and breeders advise new owners to wait until after a puppy has had her final set of vaccinations to allow her to interact with others. Unfortunately, by that time, the socialization period has ended, precluding the pup’s best shot at acquiring lifelong dog-on-dog social skills.

So, I was particularly interested in a study conducted by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, which looked at the risks to partially vaccinated puppies of contracting parvo at indoor puppy socialization sessions (socials). The results were reassuring.

Risk vs. Reward

It seems that puppies who have had only their first set of shots are at no greater risk of being infected with parvovirus than those not attending socials. During the study, it was reported that none of the 15 puppies who contracted parvovirus had attended puppy socials, and that none of the puppies who attended socials contracted parvovirus.

This dovetails perfectly with the standard of care recommended by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), which unequivocally encourages owners to begin socialization classes for puppies as early as seven to eight weeks of age, and seven days after the first set of vaccines. The American Veterinary Medical Association, the ASCPA, and other dog health and behavior experts concur.

As the ASVAB statement reads, “The primary and most important time for puppy socialization is the first three months of life. During this time puppies should be exposed to as many new people, animals, stimuli and environments as can be achieved safely and without causing over-stimulation manifested as excessive fear, withdrawal or avoidance behavior.”

It is important to note that structured puppy socials run by a variety of training and daycare facilities and other pet-related businesses take place indoors on non-porous surfaces, and “accidents” are cleaned up immediately with an antimicrobial solution. Porous surfaces, such as dirt, sand and, in particular, those found at dog parks, must be avoided until full vaccination.

Also, puppy socials do not guarantee that a dog won’t develop fear or aggression later in life; genetics, in-utero experiences, early nutrition and the first weeks with the mother and siblings also play key roles.

Developmental Factors

Why is the window of opportunity so small? At the risk of stating the obvious, puppies develop much faster than their human counterparts. For example, puppies walk beautifully at three weeks, but it takes babies about a year to reach that milestone. This acceleration affects canine cognitive function, which develops rapidly during the short socialization period; it’s during this time that a puppy’s framework for future social functioning evolves. A strong foundation built from a rich set of early experiences gives the puppy more context in which to evaluate and react to future stimuli in the environment, including people and other dogs.

As mentioned, the true socialization period of puppies—the time during which they readily incorporate new experiences into the developing worldviews that directly affect lifelong behavior—lasts from weeks 3 to 12. That’s it. Since most puppies remain with their mother and littermates for seven weeks (a whole other topic), this means that new owners have just four weeks to make sure their puppy has ample opportunities to learn that there are many sorts of people and types of dogs in this world.

Weeks 8 through 12 are called the “second socialization period” (the first having been spent with the mother and siblings). During those 28 days, a puppy’s brain is like a sponge, supple and ready to absorb and incorporate new experiences. This is without question the most profoundly important period in a dog’s life. Her brain is wired to absorb new experiences far more rapidly than during any subsequent period, and she learns not only to accept being around people and other dogs, but also, to enjoy and seek out these experiences.

While not a perfect analogy, a puppy’s capacity to learn social skills is similar to a young child’s capacity to learn languages. Studies have shown that children younger than seven easily pick up new languages because their brains are capable of readily incorporating the sounds, words, grammar and structure of multiple languages.

Like the puppy socialization period that ends at 12 weeks, this window closes for children around seven, after which language acquisition becomes far more difficult. A six-year-old child who spends a year in a Mandarin immersion class will come out fluent in the language. If I were to attend the same class, I would likely still be struggling with the basics.

The analogy continues. My Mandarin would improve over time as I became more familiar and comfortable with the language, but I would never be as fluent as my young counterpart. Likewise, dogs without the advantage of a rich socialization period can learn to thrive in social situations, but it takes a great deal more time and effort and has a lower chance of success.

Country Dog, City Dog

It goes without saying that your puppy needs to be socialized to the environment in which she will be living. If your puppy is not destined for an urban life but rather, say, for the life of a farm dog, socialization to lots of people and dogs is not as important. If your pup’s life will be devoted to managing livestock, this second socialization period would be the ideal time to hang out with sheep, goats, cows and horses.

But 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, and since more of us have dogs in our homes than ever before, it behooves us to structure our puppy’s socialization period to take this into account. In San Francisco, we have a beach where sometimes hundreds of dogs roam around off-leash at any given time. Our sheepherding dog probably doesn’t need to learn how to cope with that, but if you want to eventually spend quality time with your dog in this lovely locale, you’d best start her education early (yes, during those four crucial weeks).

In addition to socials, a widely accepted goal is for a puppy to meet 100 people during these same four weeks: babies, children, elderly folks, men and women of all races, sizes and shapes, dressed in all sorts of clothing and carrying all sorts of implements—umbrellas, canes, plastic bags. One caveat is that puppy socials and people-meet-and-greets must be positive experiences, not too overwhelming and not too scary.

As your pup’s guardian, you need to shield her from overtly frightening situations (being pursued by an unruly, much larger puppy, for instance), but you must also allow her to venture forth into the rollicking puppy mayhem at her own pace. Sometimes, a timid puppy will hang back for the first few events, and then become a social butterfly. Take, for example, my dog Otis.

As a young puppy, she was shy and unsure of herself. She had been fostered in a rural area of eastern California, so the sights and sounds of the city were initially overwhelming. At her first puppy social, she hung out under my chair and observed the other puppies playing; I did not coddle or overprotect her, nor did I force her to engage with them. By her second social, she was venturing forth, playing for a few minutes, then retreating to her safe place under my chair. By her third social, she was actively seeking out playmates and practicing adult communication behaviors, which is the ultimate goal of these events.

Since Otis was by nature somewhat fearful, I have no doubt that had she not had the chance to come out of her shell among other puppies and to learn and practice social skills, she would be a fearful dog today, possibly aggressively so. Instead, she has superb communication skills and is particularly adept at enticing other dogs to play and chase her. She remains cautious around novel stimuli (a strange stack of wood on our street or a kite hitting the beach nearby), but she is most definitely not fearful. Puppy socials made all the difference.

A word of caution here: Had I taken Otis only to that first puppy social (the one during which she hung out under my chair, overwhelmed and frightened), it almost certainly would have backfired. She would have learned that being around other dogs was an unpleasant experience to be avoided. She might have become aggressive in order to keep them away, like the multitude of dogs who have learned that snarling, snapping, lunging and barking keeps other dogs from approaching. Instead, because Otis had numerous opportunities to learn to how to play at her own pace, she became a world-class communicator.

I mention this primarily because I recently took a call from the owner of a six-month-old puppy whose veterinarian had advised avoiding all contact with other dogs until the pup was fully vaccinated. In this particular puppy’s case, that meant no contact until 17 weeks.

Five weeks past the end of the second socialization period, the pup finally attended one social, and it did not go well. The puppy was terrified and the owner decided not to go back. Now, this young dog’s single point of reference is that new dogs are scary. She trembles in the presence of other dogs, unsure of how to act, or react. A desensitization/counterconditioning program will take months or years, and will never be as effective as if that puppy had been taken to numerous socials while her brain was configured to learn and cope.

Knowledge Is Power

I find it interesting (but not surprising) that in the UC Davis study encouraging early socialization, puppies taken to socials did not contract parvo, but some who were not taken to socials did. New owners who are conscientious enough to learn about the advantages of early and safe socialization are also knowledgeable enough to avoid taking under-vaccinated pups to dog parks, where the risk of contracting the virus is high.

Conversely, people unaware of puppy socials are more likely to take puppies to places they should not be until they’re fully vaccinated, which includes dog parks, beaches and other settings with porous surfaces likely to harbor parvovirus-infected feces.

Puppy socials are just one part of a well-thought-out socialization plan, but they form the plan’s cornerstone and have the additional advantage of being viable before all vaccinations have been given.

In part because the safety and benefits of early socialization are well documented, most urban and suburban areas of the country now have access to indoor puppy socials that require just the first set of shots. This bodes well for the heath and well being of future generations of our best friends.

I hope this sheds some light not only on the advantages of socialization but also, on how such a program can begin early enough to make a real difference in the life of your dog. Now, get out there and mingle!

News: Karen B. London
What Deer?
Dog ignores attempts at interaction

Dogs who are not social around other dogs may react to them by barking, growling, lunging, yelping or running away. Their behavior makes it obvious that something is upsetting them. For some dogs who are just as disinterested in playing with other dogs, their response is far subtler: They act like no dog is around, as in, “Dog? What dog? I don’t see any dog.” They may be afraid of those other dogs or they may simply lack even the slightest interest in them.

The dog in this video is showing what it looks like to ignore someone, although the animal being ignored is a deer, not another dog. It’s unimaginable that this dog is not aware of the deer’s presence, yet he completely ignores it. His behavior seems the same as it would be if he hadn’t noticed the deer yet. It’s hard to say if the dog is completely disinterested in the deer or finds it annoying.

 

Dogs who ignore deer are extremely rare, but ignoring other dogs is hardly a common reaction, either. Over the years, I’ve seen it quite a few times, but it’s unusual enough to capture my attention every time. Sometimes a dog is nonchalant about other dogs and may genuinely have no interest in them. In such cases, dogs may be completely focused on their guardians, or perhaps on a toy. (“Nothing in the world exists except my ball and whoever is throwing it!”)

In other cases, the dog is so afraid of dogs that he actively avoids looking in their direction. When extreme fearfulness is involved, the dog will turn away from the other dogs over and over, no matter how often they move around and into his field of view. The constant looking away can make them look like bobbleheads, which would be amusing if it were not for the fact that they are clearly afraid enough to be in serious distress.

If your dog ignores other dogs without having been trained to do so, is it because he doesn’t care about other dogs or because he’s too scared to look at them?

News: Letters
Thoughts on Testing Behavior Assessment

In addition to the behavior tests mentioned in the article Testing Behavior Assessment, I believe we also need to test those individuals with administrative authority over owned dogs and owners, i.e., field and hearing officers. Anyone with the authority to find that a dog is dangerous or aggressive should be required by law to pass a test showing that they fully understand canine behavior.

Animal control officers who conclude that growling equates with being aggressive or dangerous are menaces to owners and dogs; ditto those who think any big, brindled dog is a Pit Bull. Hearing officers who refuse to actually observe the dog’s behavior are worse, and violate an owner’s right to present evidence to refute charges against the dog.

As one who has worked professionally with animals all of her life, I feel the tests are also affected by who’s performing them. Animals can sense confidence as well as fear. Someone new to animal recue doing the testing may be nervous or scared, which I feel [could] cause the animal to act differently, whereas someone with experience will have a different presence, and the animal will respond to that, too. Over the years, I have seen the same animal respond to the same situation very differently depending on who was doing the handling.

I am glad people are working on a better way test shelter animals for their adoptability.

News: Karen B. London
Behavior of Canine Abuse Victims
Do abused dogs have traits in common?

Animal abuse happens all too often in oh so many situation and cultures, yet little research has been devoted to the problem. An interesting study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (JAAWS) titled “Behavioral and Psychological Characteristics of Canine Victims of Abuse” compared dogs who have been (or have most likely been) abused with dogs who have not been abused.

Not surprisingly, behavioral differences were found between the abused dogs and other dogs. Dogs with a history of abuse were rated by their guardians as more excitable and performed more attachment and attention-seeking behavior than their counterparts. They also displayed more fear and aggression towards unfamiliar people and unfamiliar dogs. They rolled in feces more often, exhibited more fearfulness on stairs, showed higher levels of hyperactivity, were more persistent barkers and had a greater frequency of “bizarre, strange, or repetitive behaviors.” That last category includes actions such as hoarding shoes, digging deep holes, sucking on pillows and being unable to stop, and circling when anxious.

The researchers discuss possible interpretations of the results of their study. They point out that fearfulness towards strangers (dogs and people) and aggression towards them are highly correlated in a number of studies, suggesting that much of the aggression seen in the abused dogs could be motivated by fear. They also point out that abuse could cause fearfulness that leads to aggression through a conditioned response, but that aggression could also be a result of genetic predisposition, poor socialization, brain injury and other injuries that could cause aggression motivated by pain.

The researchers went through several steps to identify abused dogs for inclusion in their study. Magazines sent to members of Best Friends Animal Society included a notice requesting anyone who suspected their dog had been abused to consider participating in a study about canine abuse. Over 1100 respondents were given a link to SurveyMonkey, which asked about reasons for suspecting abuse. From that sample, 149 were chosen for the next phase of the study because the cases of those dogs were considered “more likely than not to involve substantiated abuse.”

Five experts were then given the dogs’ historical information and physical reports of injuries, but no behavioral information. (Behavioral information was not included because that was the subject of the study.) If at least four of the experts evaluated the information and concluded that it was probable that the dog had been abused, the dog was included in the study. Only dogs who were still alive at the time of the study were included in order to avoid problems with memory or biased recall.

Of the 149 selected in the first phase of the study, only 69 proceeded to the next stage. Their guardians were instructed to fill out the highly detailed Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ), which was designed to measure a number of behavioral characteristics in dogs. The C-BARQ has become a standard research tool used to compare the behavior of different groups of dogs. In this study, the abused dogs were compared to 5239 dogs from the C-BARQ database who matched the abused dogs in age range now and at the time of acquisition and the source of the dogs.<

Studies of abuse, in both children and animals, have limitations because abuse is often done secretly, and because of incomplete information about the victims. Rarely is there much information about their personality and behavior before being abused. This study, as the researchers note, suffers from these limitations as well as others.

Another limitation of this study is that it correlates behavior with a history of abuse, but is unable to show whether that abuse plays a causal role in the behavior of abused animals. While it is hard to imagine that abuse does not affect behavior, correlational studies are not designed to elucidate any such claims. The researchers caution that the differences they found between abused dogs and other dogs does not mean that the abuse CAUSED these differences. It is also possible that some of these behavioral characteristics are risk factors for abuse, meaning that they made abuse more likely, or that the abusive environment, rather than the abuse itself, played a casual role.

The researchers recommend that future studies investigate which behavioral differences are caused by abuse, which are risk factors for abuse and which are both. (For example, aggression in human children is known to be both a risk factor for abuse and a result of abuse.) They would also like to investigate which types of abuse are the most damaging. Again comparisons to humans are inevitable, and it is known that emotional abuse is often more damaging and harder to recover from than physical abuse. Finally, they want to know more about how the age at which dogs are abused affects outcomes.

Like many people, it makes me physically ill when I think about abuse of people or of animals, but I’m grateful that it is being studied. The more we know about abuse—its causes and its effects—the better we are able to help those who have suffered and to prevent additional instances of abuse.

News: Karen B. London
Dog Surprises On Walks
They come out of nowhere

We were walking through the neighborhood when I saw a man hurrying two off-leash dogs into his house. I appreciated this responsible action that prevented Marley from having to face two exuberant dogs running up to him while he was leashed up. There was a large truck parked in the driveway that nearly hid us from view, so it’s possible that the dogs hadn’t even seen us. Because the man was so responsible with two of his dogs, it caught me quite off guard when we passed by the truck and an enormous dog on a long tether in his yard barked and lunged at us, coming within a few feet, even as we both moved away from him.

To express the gigantic nature of this dog requires no exaggeration, which is a shame, because it’s so fun to exaggerate. He reminded me of Marmaduke, although instead of being a purebred Great Dane, he seemed to have been crossed with something really large, like a water buffalo. Because he was tied up, this big dog did not actually reach us, but we were still scared by the suddenness of his appearance and his actions.

I feel comfortable speaking for both Marley and myself when I say that neither of us are usually so aware of just how effective our sympathetic nervous systems are at preparing us to respond to danger. My heart rate doubled within seconds, and Marley jumped straight in the air with his eyes showing an increase in size that was similar in magnitude. Perhaps Marmaduke came to mind because our own reactions seemed so absurdly cartoon-like.

Though Marley doesn’t react badly to off leash dogs, he’s hardly thrilled when one appears out of nowhere and barges into his space or, even worse, into him. Luckily, he’s such a stable dog that there was no real harm done.

It took very little effort and time to counteract the shock of our bad experience. We crossed the street and I took a few deep breaths to calm myself down. I helped Marley do the same by speaking cheerfully to him and offering him treats and a toy from my pocket. Then, just for fun, I said, “Let’s go!” and took off running. Few things change his mood for the better than a sudden burst of speed.

Still, I’m well aware how traumatic an incident like this can be for dogs who already struggle to cope with other dogs. Sometimes, dogs will shake and drool, or be so upset that they refuse even their favorite treats. Others get nervous the next time they pass the spot where the trouble happened, and in rare cases even hesitate to go out on the next walk. The sooner you can give them a positive experience to change their mood with fun, toys, petting or treats, the easier it is for most dogs to recover from the fright, but it takes patience and time for many dogs. If you’ve already been working to help a dog get over a fear of other dogs, a bad scare like this can be a major setback.

Have dogs taken you by surprise on your neighborhood walks, and can you calm your own dog (and yourself!) down afterwards?

News: Karen B. London
More Determined As They Age
Are older dogs less willing to be interrupted?

“This way,” I said in that sing-song voice that tells the dogs in my life that I am about to get moving and that they should join me. It’s not a cue for a specific behavior, and it’s certainly not a command. It just means, “I am going to be moving, so you should pay attention to the direction I go.” When an off-leash dog hears it, I expect them to take note of me so they can follow me when they are ready to go.

Marley has always been agreeable about this, but this past weekend, he really had his nose to the ground and was slower to follow than usual. It didn’t bother me, though. We were in a safe place, I like him to have his freedom and I figured the warm weather was making smells extra distracting.

Then I walked him a couple of mornings later on leash around the neighborhood in sub-freezing temperatures and he did not budge when I gave him a typical, “Marley, let’s keep going.” This is also not a cue or a command but generally encourages him to keep it moving. Because I was cold and ready to go home, I really noticed that he did not want to interrupt his sniffing. I gave some serious thought to what is going on, and I think some of it is just a common age-related behavior.

Marley is at least six and perhaps a few years older than that, and I think he’s an older gentleman now who wants to do what he wants to do, rather than stop and do what I want him to do. Sure, the smells might be extra enticing, but I’m beginning to think he’s just more willing to assert his own desires rather than act as biddable as he has in the past.

He’s about the most agreeable dog I’ve ever known, and in no way stubborn as a major personality trait. I simply think he’s secure in himself and sometimes acts on his strong opinions, which include not wanting to stop doing something he’s enjoying just because I’ve suggested it. I’ve noticed this with other dogs over the years, too, and wondered about it.

I’m a big fan of letting dogs in their golden years have a little more leeway about doing what they want, and I try not to interrupt their sniffing or snoozing any more than necessary. Marley is far from being old, but he does seem to be channeling his inner middle-aged-fellow-who-wants-what-he-wants and is less willing to be influenced by anyone, including me. In my mind, I hear him saying things like, “In a minute,” or “Hold on a sec.”

His behavior does not reflect any sort of training issue. He’s still as responsive to cues as ever and will respond well to any that he knows, whether it’s something basic like “Sit” or “Come” or tricks like “Sit Pretty” and “High Five.” It’s just that he is not as quick to follow if I’m merely suggesting that I would like to move on. I love that he is smart enough to distinguish between cues that he’s supposed to respond to and mere indications of what I’m going to do. If I need him to come away from something, I can use his recall, and he’ll do it, but he used to act almost as if I had given the cue “Come” when I said, “This way.”

Has your dog become less likely to interrupt what he’s doing and respond to you as he’s gotten older?

News: Karen B. London
It’s Dinnertime!
How does your dog let you know?
What does a dog have to do to get this thing filled up?

The dog was definitely letting us know that he was ready to be fed, and that he wanted us to get our sorry selves downstairs to the kitchen to attend to this pressing matter. Dinnertime is usually between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., and it was nearing the end of that hour. His stomach certainly knows how to tell time.

He kept opening and closing his mouth, looking around, and snapping in the air repeatedly. He walked to the top of the stairs a few times and then returned to the bedroom where we were all hanging out. He gave some sighs, a few longing looks and had a tendency to jump up if any of us made any sort of move. I guess he hoped that any action was a hopeful sign that someone (anyone!) was finally going to feed him.

When we did head downstairs at last, he was positively gleeful, bounding right over to his bowl and looking up expectantly. It was only then that we were certain what his slightly agitated behavior had been all about. He doesn’t usually act pushy in any way, including over food, so this was somewhat new behavior. I can only assume that he was especially hungry that evening, and eager to have his evening meal.

A lot of dogs have dinnertime alert rituals, whether it is barking, running to the cupboard where the food is stored, standing by the food bowl or picking it up and holding it. How does your dog let you know that it is time for dinner to be served?

News: Karen B. London
Are You Special To Your Dog?
New research confirms that you are

Does your dog recognize you, the guardian, as unique in his life? Naturally, you consider him the most important, best, most special dog in the world, but does your dog view you as a unique treasure, or just as any old tall-two-legs capable of feeding him, putting on the leash, opening the door and playing with him?

A recent study in the journal Behavioural Processes titled “Dogs and their human companions: The effect of familiarity on dog–human interactions” investigated questions like these. Specifically, the scientists wanted to know whether dogs interacting with guardians, other people they know well and strangers behaved differently depending on how well they knew the person. With a series of tests on 20 dogs who were well socialized with some training experience, the researchers concluded that:

1. Dogs responded differently to the guardian and the stranger in most situations.  That is, if your dog is like the family dogs in this study, you matter more to your dog than a stranger does. (Whew!)

2. Dogs acted differently when they were with their guardians and when they were with a familiar person when the situation involved playfulness, fear or anxiety, or physical contact.

3. Dogs reacted similarly to their own guardian and people that they knew well when the task involved responding to obedience cues.

Understanding the effects of the guardian on dog behavior is important because it informs us about the attachment between humans and dogs. It also matters because it shows that behavioral research is affected by which humans, if any, are present during experiments.

News: Karen B. London
The Challenge of Children
I’m sympathetic to many dogs

We all know that dogs and children can be a volatile mix, and that we must take care to protect kids from dogs. Regrettably, some kids are bitten and even more are scared or hurt by dogs chasing them or jumping up on them. As both a parent and as someone who works with dogs professionally, I see this as an important issue that we as a society must continue to improve.

Still, many times the interactions between kids and dogs leave me more concerned about the dogs than the children. Though far too many dog bites to kids happen, sometimes I think it’s amazing that there aren’t more considering what dogs have to put up with. While I think the majority of kids are kind to dogs, such good behavior is far from universal.

I’ve heard many people over the years praise their dogs by saying, “The kids can do ANYTHING to him.” I always respond by asking, “What are the kids doing to him?” while inside I’m crossing my paws and hoping it’s not too bad.

The answers range from the relatively benign (they follow him to pet him constantly, they dress him up) to the deeply concerning (they make a game of jumping over him, they use him like a pillow, they carry him around a lot) to the truly horrifying (they poke him in the eye, they pull his tail, they scream in his ear to wake him up, they try to ride him like a horse.)

My years working with clients as well as observations of dogs outside of work leave me with tremendous gratitude to the enormous numbers of dogs who react peacefully to kids. Some dogs are dealing with kids who are a bit rough, totally thoughtless or even downright cruel.

Without excusing dogs who have bitten kids, I think we’re asking dogs to put up with an awful lot considering what goes on in many households with kids. Almost every day, I silently thank the millions of dogs out there who have refrained from biting kids who bother them relentlessly. We’re very lucky as a society to have so many amazing canines as pets.

News: Karen B. London
Do Dogs React to Being Laughed At?
I wonder if it makes them feel bad

Marley had jumped up on our bed, as he is allowed to do, but the rule is that he has to get down if he is asked to do so. On this particular night, he seemed exhausted and eager to go to bed. Once ensconced in his favorite spot, he avoided eye contact with all of us. Wherever our faces were, he was looking the other way.

I proposed the idea that perhaps he was trying to avoid being told to get down off the bed, in an “If I can’t see you, you can’t see me” kind of way. This was pure guesswork, but the rest of my family thought it was funny because it really seemed to fit.

We began to act like him, looking away, pretending that nobody could tell us it was bedtime or anything else we didn’t want to hear, and we were all laughing. I caught a glance at Marley, and he looked really unhappy, which is when I said, “I wonder if he feels bad because we’re laughing at him.”

In truth we found Marley endearing and funny, and meant no disrespect, but how did he perceive it? Dogs are so in tune with our emotions and actions, and they are obviously intensely social beings, so it seems possible that he felt himself the object of derision where none was intended.

It made me sad to contemplate the idea, and my husband and kids felt the same way. We stopped laughing immediately and began to pet Marley as we usually would when we’re all about to go to bed. Soon Marley looked happy again, though still tired.

It’s no fun being laughed at, and it does happen to dogs, whether our intent is hurtful or not. Do you think your dog can tell if others are laughing at his expense?

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