Wordless Wednesday Labrador style

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What is life like for today’s American dogs?

Sue Sternberg shared some great overall concepts to consider about the life of a modern dog. In the United States, much has changed over the years to effect the daily lives of dogs. From her lecture, “Predicting and Handling Aggression” (2011) (which I’ve watched on dvd):

The world is getting more difficult for dogs:
– We’re not breeding for the behaviors that make up a good companion dog
– The dogs that are being breed in huge volume are not being breed for qualities that will make them successful members of society. Therefore, dogs are becoming more difficult and problematic
– Owners are busier, more stressed, and have less time
– Owners have less money (with the economic crisis)
– Less access to the natural world
– Less access to their (dog’s) natural instincts

As humans, we have a commitment to provide a dog with what she needs. And for every dog it’s a little different, but universally they need:

– To feel safe
– To be safe
– Aerobic exercise – they need to be able to tire themselves out
– Access to the natural world
– Access to her instincts – for example, access to the act of sniffing, exploring, investigating the world, hunting (not to kill, but to seek and look for things)

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“Predicting and Handling Aggression” in dogs, a lecture with Sue Sternberg

I’m in the process of watching an excellent series of lectures on dvd, “Predicting and Handling Aggression,” given by Sue Sternberg (2011). She just mentioned an interesting aside that I thought I’d share. When talking about what a “friendly” dog looks like, specifically when a dog sees his/her guardian/owner, “his eyes will squint, his ears will go back and his forehead will soften,” descriptions every dog person can certainly agree on. The point of note though comes next when she cleverly notes that isn’t this also the case when we, as humans, see someone we like and then smile? Our eyes squint or soften, our ears move a bit (perhaps dropping back slightly), and our foreheads soften. Sternberg then wonders, if we had larger, more expressive ears like dogs would we notice our ears going back (against our heads) as well?

Check out a clip from the lecture: YouTube
(note: when talking about a noose lead, this is specific to work with shelter dogs in a shelter

And here it is for sale on Dogwise.com: DogWise

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Thoughts on communication as a way to better understand dog behavior

The domestic dog spends the majority of his/her life interacting with an utterly noncanine animal, the human. Many dogs today live as the minority species in a household without other dogs and often they are required to interact more with humans than with other dogs. Dogs communicate with those around them constantly, so in order to avoid misunderstanding and potential conflict we as their guardians and supporters, “…must learn to listen to what the dog is telling us” (Rugaas, 2008). Misinterpretation of what a dog is communicating fosters stress and anxiety in an animal who may be communicating an imperative need, like space from surrounding humans. Miscommunication between humans and dogs can fail to address potentially pertinent issues like a perceived threat, which increases the risk of a dog displaying a threat behavior or even biting. Biting is a completely natural type of retaliation for a dog and is their greatest defense against any perceived threat, but the majority of humans feel otherwise and, “routinely execute dogs who bite” (Donaldson, 1996). The possible consequence of euthanasia highlights the importance of addressing miscommunication between these two species – particularly for the dog. “Living with dogs means that you must work at establishing a common language between the two of you” (Aloff, 2005). This may seem obvious advice, but I believe that when considering more specific issues, like the problem of dog bites, we will find that a great portion of the problem stems from a foundation of miscommunication.

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Idea for future research in dog behavior!

Within the past five years there has been increased interest in whether the emotional lives of nonhuman animals (henceforth referred to as ‘animal’) can be measured using tests of cognitive bias, also referred to in the literature as ‘cognitive-affective bias’ (Burman et al., 2009). Exploring the emotional processes of domesticated dogs is of particular interest when considering questions pertaining to welfare. And given that there are currently 78.2 million owned dogs in the US alone, adding to the literature discussing the emotional lives of these animals is potentially valuable (Humanesociety.org, 2012). Training and obedience work is often cited as a way to build effective communication between an owner and their dog (Apdt.org, 2012) and, therefore, the methods used potentially offer insight into individual human-dog relationships, specifically the emotional experiences of the dog. Exploring the affective state of dogs experiencing aversive stimuli during training might lead to a greater understanding of their emotional processes and utilizing cognitive bias might offer an effective measurement tool. Inspired by a 2011 study exploring cognitive bias in dogs induced to experience anxiety (Burman et al., 2011), I propose a comparison between the cognitive bias in dogs trained utilizing aversive stimuli with those trained utilizing Positive Reinforcement Training. I hypothesize that the use of aversive stimuli during training induces a ‘pessimistic’ cognitive bias, similar to that seen in a 2010 study on separation-related behavior in dogs (Mendl et al., 2010), and that this provides evidence for reduced welfare.

The concept of cognitive bias refers to the connection between the psychological state and then the emotional reaction experienced by humans interacting with ambiguous stimuli (Paul et al., 2005). More recently, there has been an interest in exploring whether animals too exhibit such biases, or ‘judgment biases’ (Paul et al., 2005). At it’s most straightforward, cognitive bias can be explained as those individuals who are generally happy tend to view ambiguous stimuli as non-threatening, whereas those whose general view is pessimistic more frequently view ambiguous stimuli as threatening or ‘negative’ (Paul et al., 2005).

APDT.org. Retrieved November 29, 2012 from, http://www.apdt.com/petowners/training-and-behavior/

Burman, O. H. P., Parker, R. M. A., Paul, E. S., Mendl, M. (2009). Anxiety-induced
cognitive bias in non-human animals. Physiology & Behavior, 98, 345-350. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2009.06.012

Burman, O. H. P., McGowan, R., Mendl, M., Norling, Y., Paul, E., Rehn, T., Keeling, L.
(2011). Using judgment bias to measure positive affective state in dogs. Applied
Animal Behaviour Science, 132, 160-168. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2011.04.001

Humanesociety.org. Retrieved November 29, 2012 from, http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/pet_overpopulation/facts/pet_ownership_statistics.html

Mendl, M., Brooks, J., Basse, C., Burman, O., Paul, E., Blackwell, E., & Casey, R. (2010). Dogs showing separation-related behaviour exhibit a “pessimistic” cognitive bias. Current Biology, 20(19), R839–R840. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2010.08.030

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Some thoughts on love as a primary reason for treating companion animals kindly.

As much as I appreciate the concept of ‘love’ as a shared experience for humans and their companion animals I get a bit nervous when love is pointed to as a reason to care for and support these other animals. The act of loving implies intention to love as well as a conscious awareness for the responsibility of loving another being; both states that nonhuman animals may not be capable of. Claiming that our companion animals (mostly notably dogs and cats) “love” us is, in my opinion, unhelpful at best and potentially detrimental to the psychological well being of these other animals at worst. I say this because we do not know whether or not these animals love us or experience those many and complicated emotions involved in loving another. For example, I love my dog, but I do not expect him to love me in the same way or even at all. I care for him because I believe he is inherently deserving of my respect and consideration, regardless of the way he feels about me.
Companion animals are already forced to live up to so many of our human demands, why must we insist on this notion of animals “loving us back?” Are we so human-centered that not only must we domesticate, genetically alter, and control companion animals, but also expect that they love us as much as we love them in order to rationalize providing care and a good quality of life for them? We should utilize common decency and those manners of treating and interacting with others that we have learned through philosophy, psychology, and all other subjects that consider what is ‘good and fair,’ rather than using love as a determinate for how we care for others.

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Taking a break, but will hope to be back soon.

Thanks for visiting!

As you have likely guessed by now, I’m taking a break from blogging. Please feel free to browse through old posts and if you have any pressing questions or concerns do feel free to email me.

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What do you think is going on in this clever dog’s head?

I’d love to hear any thoughts, reactions, questions about this video! Do you think the dog was intentionally trying to turn on the water? If yes, what does he do that makes you think that it’s safe to apply intention to his actions? Were you surprised by how quickly he figured out the “problem?”

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Study concludes dogs don’t communicate with humans in order to inform human of things human does not know.

“Dogs are especially skilful at comprehending human communicative signals. This raises the question of whether they are also able to produce such signals flexibly, specifically, whether they helpfully produce indicative (‘showing’) behaviours to inform an ignorant human. In experiment 1, dogs indicated the location of an object more frequently when it was something they wanted themselves than when it was something the human wanted. There was some suggestion that this might be different when the human was their owner. So in experiment 2 we investigated whether dogs could understand when the owner needed helpful information to find a particular object (out of two) that they needed. They did not. Our findings, therefore, do not support the hypothesis that dogs communicate with humans to inform them of things they do not know” (Kaminski et. al, 2011).

This study was conducted recently at the Max-Planck Institute in Hungary and offers helpful insight into potential motivating factors dog have when communicating with humans. The study, “Dogs, Canis familiaris, communicate with humans to request but not to inform” (Kaminski et. al, 2011) beautifully illustrates the need to be cautious and cognizant of the assumptions we make about dog behavior, because such assumptions may lead to jumps in logic about what dogs are actually capable of intellectually. In this study researchers explore whether the “showing behavior” seen in dogs is reflective of intention to inform a human subject or, instead, a way to show a human subject an object’s location in order for the dog to obtain it; otherwise considered a begging behavior (Kaminski et. al, 2011). “Showing behavior” has been demonstrated in a few studies and Adam Miklosi coined the phrase in 2000 to cover the various types of behavioral displays seen in dogs, such as pointing, gazing, and glancing at an object (Kaminski et. al, 2011). This behavior refers to the phenomenon where dogs display behaviors to a human in order to indicate the location of a desired object. An example of “showing behavior” is when a dog alternates her gaze between the location of a desired object (i.e. dog toy) and a human’s face/eye area (Kaminski et. al, 2011).

The results of this study confirmed my personal suspicion that dogs are not intending to inform the human subjects but are more likely (and so honestly) communicating a desire to obtain an object of interest. These results highlight the importance of remaining grounded when observing dog behavior so that we avoid jumping to conclusions. Remaining vigilant in this manner is challenging of course, especially when a dog displays a behavior that excites us because of its potential implications. As an aside, an ingenious dog guardian once noted that this “showing behavior” could be interpreted as potential evidence for “tool use” by dogs, which appears far more likely than a dog displaying the “human-like cooperative structure of informing” (Kaminski et. al, 2011). Creating an experiment to test tool use in dogs would be a hugely enlightening study.

References (If you simply google the title of the below study you should be able to find a way to access it free of charge, otherwise email me for a pdf):
Kaminski, Juliane, and Martine Neumann, Juliane Brauer, Josep Call, Michael Tomasello (2011). “Dogs, Canis familiaris, communicate with humans to request but not to inform.” Animal Behaviour 82 651-658.

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I need a fun dog video, how about you?

I’m in need of some cuteness, maybe even a bit of funny to, so let’s see what youtube’s got to offer us today….this is a video from cwdressen whose three dogs have created a bit of a sensation on youtube. This video is of his Doberman and pit bull (Staffordshire terrier mix maybe?) having a good old time together:

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