Should understanding dog body language be seen as a public policy issue?

Last semester I took Paul Waldau’s course, Animals in Public Policy and the Law, where we explored the many aspects of how nonhuman animals are impacted by our often human-centered (Waldau, 2011) policy making. We read about past and current policy on the books, while also considering how and if such policies are enforced. For one of my papers I theorized that the lack of human ability to decipher, or even consider, dog communication, specifically through their utilization of body language, presents a public policy concern. Here’s an excerpt:

Our current understanding of the complexities of dog behavior is limited, particularly in the area of canine communication, which is an essential component of dog-dog and dog-human interactions. Developing an understanding of how dogs communicate is a public policy concern because of the potential for miscommunication, which has been show to result in conflict between these two species. By looking at the small, seemingly innocuous ways in which guardians interact with their dogs on a daily basis we can hope to discover and then examine potential areas for change that will benefit the human-dog intersection. When humans fail to appreciate the information a dog is communicating the potential risks increase, especially during those scenarios where a dog feels threatened or fearful. Much of a dog’s reality is spent determining whether she is safe or in danger, and this is where we see the first signs of a breakdown in dog-human communication; dogs and humans have “differing perceptions of what constitutes a threat” (Donaldson, 1996). A fearful or threatened dog is “extremely unpredictable” (Aloof, 2005) and far more likely to bite, and the fallout of this can be seen in the 4.7 million dog bites occurring in 2011 alone (www.CDC.org, 2011). This statistic grows more worrisome when realizing that not all dog bite incidents are reported to authorities. Miscommunication between humans and dogs creates a failure to address potentially pertinent issues, thereby increasing the risk of a dog displaying a threat behavior or even biting. There is a great need to reassess the academic literature on systems of communication in dogs and then re-education the public, in order to improve our interactions with these most integral companions.

Consideration for the communication styles of dogs qualifies as a public policy concern because this exploration has great potential to, ultimately, decrease incidents of conflict between humans and dogs. This decrease in conflict will certainly improve the lives of innumerable members of our society, which is arguably the ultimate goal of any public policy measure (Wildavsky, 1987). Aaron Wildavsky emphasizes this sentiment when he writes, “Above all,policy analysis is about improvement, about improving citizen preferences for the policies they-the-people-ought to prefer” (Wildavsky, 1987). The focus of public policy should be on creating ways to better the lives of the public, and addressing problematic dog-human interactions fits into that focus.

References:
Aloff, B. (2005). Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide. Wenatchee, WA: Dogwise Publishing.

Donaldson, J. (1996). The Culture Clash. Berkeley, CA: James & Kenneth Publishers.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Dog Bite: Fact Sheet.” Retrieved December 8, 2011

http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Dog-Bites/dogbite-factsheet.html.

Wildavsky, Aaron (1987). Speaking Truth to Power. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

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Are you familiar with the website Beyond Cesar Millian?

are-you-familiar-with-the-website-beyond-cesar-millian

Beyond Cesar Millan is a fantastic website that explains why the training techniques and methods utilized by the TV personality, Cesar Millan, are controversial. When considering Millan’s impact it is essential to realize that his methods of interaction with and understanding of domestic dogs have the potential to harm the physical and psychological welfare of all dogs. I encourage everyone/anyone to explore the site, read the articles, and view the video footage provided.

The information found on this site offers a science-based perspective and understanding of the domestic dog.

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Wordless Wednesday b/c we’re too tired round here to write!

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Are you curious about canine vocalizations? Check out these definitions!

I’ve been researching ethograms the past week and thought this one offers wonderfully detailed descriptions of canine vocalizations. Take a look!

From EthoSearch.com

Source
Cohen, J. A. & Fox, M. W. 1976. Vocalizations in wild canids and possible effects of domestication. Behavioural Processes, 1, 77-92.

Vocalize

Whines
The whines of all species recorded were typically of short duration Wolves (and Husky dog – personal observation) will sometimes extend this sound for several seconds, however, producing what has been called an undulating whine (Crisler, 1958). This sound is created by the movement of the tongue within the vocal cavity alternately blocking and opening air passages (Crisler, 1958). The fundamental and pitch of dominant frequency (pitch of DF) found in the whines of adult wolves were both about 1570 Hz. The same figures apply to the undulating whine. The fundamental for the Chihuahua ranges from 400 to 1570 Hz, while the pitch of DF is usually from 2000 to 3000 Hz. Recordings made of developing Irish Setter X Doberman Pinscher hybrid puppies indicated a range of 1500-3100 Hz for the lowest and strongest principle frequencies. Whining is most often a cyclic (i.e. rhythmic) vocalization given in distress, with the exception of the undulation whine is non-cyclic.

Yelps
These sounds, as shown by Bleicher (1963), develop in the dog in combination with the whine and later may occur separately or successively combined with a growl, bark or whine (see later). This particular sound type was not recorded in other adult canids and may be a species-characteristic of Canis familiaris. For the purpose of this study the yelp was regarded as a shortened, contracted form of the whine, a high amplitude piercing variant, the ‘yip’, being an analogous sound recorded in coyotes and jackals. The analogy of the yelp in the same context in the fox, is the scream.

Screams
The screams of red foxes tend to be of longer duration (3-1 sec or more) and occur in a greater variety of contexts than those of other canids. The grey foxes recorded emitted screams which were generally shorter than those of the red foxes, but were repeated more often. It is thus possible that the total signal value of the scream for these two species is about equal. The fundamental for most foxes studied (including the Arctic Fox) ranged from 1200 to 2000 Hz the pitch of DF was between 2000 and 5000 Hz. Chihuahua recordings indicate a fundamental of 1200-2000 Hz and a pitch of DF of 2000-3200 Hz. Recordings of Irish Setter x Doberman Pinschers show fundamental and pitch of DF values of 1800-2700 Hz. Preliminary data on the screams of coyotes indicate a fundamental of about 2400 Hz and a pitch of DF of about 2700 Hz. The scream is non-cyclic in red foxes, and repeated, but not cyclically, in grey foxes. Chihuahua puppies given painful skin stimulation screamed non-cyclically. Those placed on a cold surface, however, emitted cyclic screams.

Barks
Barks of all species recorded were of very short duration (i.e. < 0.5 set). All principal frequencies (fundamental and pitch of DF) lie in the lower register between 0 and 2000 Hz. The main differences between the barks of various canid species concern cyclicity. The domestic dog will often bark cyclically in a “sing-song” manner, one bark following another until a train of barks results. This is commonly heard during territorial defense and care or contact solicitation. Foxes bark non-cyclically, white our data indicate that wolves may bark either cyclically or non-cyclically. Further investigation is needed to distinguish the different stimulus situations that elicit these two barking forms in wolves.

Growls
Growls may vary in duration from short to extended, depending on the situation and intensity of the social encounter. The growls of all species are non-cyclic. While foxes growl only in threat and defense, wolves and some dogs growl while greeting one another, possibly reaffirming their dominance relationships. Wolves, dogs, and especially coyotes may often growl during group vocalizations. A muffled growl-bark or ‘cough’ was recorded, but not analyzed, in all canids. It may serve as a warning to offspring and others in agonistic contexts.

Howls
All recorded howls of wolves and coyotes were of long to extended duration. The fundamental for both species was between 400 and 2000 Hz and the pitch of DF from 1200 to 2900 Hz.

Mews
Preliminary evidence indicates that newborn to 5-week-old red and grey foxes tend to repeat their neonatal mews more often than dogs of the same age group. Foxes maintain this sound as part of their vocal repertoires throughout life while it is only heard in neonates of all other canids studied.

Grunts
(This sound type is to be distinguished from the groans and grunts of a sick or dying canid, or of one in intense pain as during parturition). The fundamental of the grunts of wolves and dogs ranged from 85 to 200 Hz when detectable. The sound is heard in neonates of these two species and the coyote but was not recorded in foxes.

Coos
This sound is heard only in foxes. One form is trill-like while the other is more of a cackle. Differentiation between the two forms on the basis of spectrographic evidence is difficult, and it is not yet clear which stimuli elicit each form of the coo.

Take a look at EthoSearch.org for more info!

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Dogs and cats have more similarities than you might think!

About a year ago, I was reading a post on Patricia McConnell’s blog, The Other End of the Leash, where she was discussing tool use in nonhuman animals, specifically as seen in the domestic dog. There was a wonderful comment made by a reader who noted how it seems dogs actually use humans as tools and ever since reading that wonderfully creative comment, I’ve been fascinated by the ways in which dogs interact with (and get the attention of) humans. For this week I read, “A Comparative Study of the Use of Visual Communication Signals in Interactions Between Dogs (Canis familiaris) and Humans and Cats (Felis catus) and Humans,” by Adam Miklosi et al. This article discusses two experiments that were conducted in order to explore potential differences in the communication styles and patterns seen in dogs versus cats, during interaction with a human(s). I was surprised by the results which displayed few differences in the ability of cats and dogs to understand human pointing gestures as well as how these nonhuman animals communicated and/or signaled the human subject(s). The main differences were found in “species-specific” differences as seen in each animal’s use of signaling to the human(s) (Miklosi et al., 2005, page 179).

The two experiments explored differences in dogs and cats by looking at feeding by a human, which the experimenters felt was appropriate because feeding involves, “a type of interaction that is usually the same in the two species” (Miklosi et al., 2005, page 180). The nonhuman animals were pulled from four different groups, those cats that lived alone, dogs that lived alone, cats that lived with dogs, and dogs that lived with cats. I found this, and many other aspects of the two experiments, illustrative of the experimenter’s attention to detail and appreciation for the complexity of the two species, as well as the potential for differences between those cats and dogs that did or did not share a home with the other species. The first experiment looked at “interspecific communicative behavior,” in addition to the nonhuman animal’s ability to comprehend and respond appropriately to a human’s use of visual communication (i.e. pointing gestures) (Miklosi et al., 2005, page 180). The second experiment explored the nonhuman animal’s use of gaze, drawing from previous studies that revealed dog’s tendencies to look to, or gaze at, a human when having trouble solving a problem (i.e. obtaining food) (Miklosi et al., 2005, page 182).

The general discussion of the two experiments revealed that these two species utilize both similar and differing techniques during interspecific communication with humans (Miklosi et al., 2005, page 184). Most notably, dogs tended to look to humans more quickly when faced with a problem, whereas cats tended to work through the problem on their own for longer before “consulting” the human (Miklosi et al., 2005, page 185). I consider this discovery one that is ripe for further research, and definitely lively conversation! Overall, as Miklosi et al. write in their closing remarks, these experiments offer a first glimpse into both the differences and commonalities between cats and dogs in their use of visual communication with humans.

Reference:

Miklosi, A. (2005). A Comparative Study of the Use of Visual Communication Signals in Interactions Between Dogs (Canis familiaris) and Humans and Cats (Felis catus) and Humans. Journal of Comparative Psychology, Vol.119, No. 2, 179-186

TheOtherEndoftheLeash.com. Retrieved March 10, 2012 from http://www.theotherendoftheleash.com

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Wordless Wednesday – Quinn likes his privacy during bathroom time

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Have you seen Quinn the Dog at the beach?

http://youtu.be/CXwfO2JnSTo

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Did you know that even notable academics disagree over what ‘dominance’ means?

did-you-know-that-even-notable-academics-disagree-over-what-dominance-means

The application of all models of social dominance in the explanation of human-dog and dog-dog interactions is both illogical and deleterious to those relationships. The term illogical is used to highlight the lack of sound reasoning found to support the claim that dogs employ a social dominance construct when interacting with other animals. Academic reviews of the concept of dominance identify anywhere between 13 and 21 differing definitions, each claiming legitimacy (Drews, 1993).

Social dominance is a construct created to describe social interactions between two or more animals whose shared aim is to avoid conflict while securing or maintaining power or control, usually over a specific resource (O’Heare, 2007). This construct applies to those social interactions between two or more individuals where both individuals have encountered one another on at least two previous occasions; thereby enabling each to use previous knowledge to assess the other’s potential of attaining the “dominant” position. The struggle for dominance cannot occur during the first meeting of two individuals, as at least two prior meetings are necessary in accordance with the definition. The academic history of social dominance theory is convoluted, largely because the numerous definitions that exist do so in a constant state of disagreement. Those who have written about social dominance often fail to do so accurately and, “Often researchers argue over social dominance without a clear operational definition and perhaps with different definitions in mind” (O’Heare, 2008).

Despite the weakness of the dominance model persistent use continues in much of this country and certainly in popular culture. Dominance is used consistently to explain dog behavior, as well as being applied sloppily during dog training. Exploration into the legitimacy and logic of applying such constructs has only recently begun. Many dog trainers and guardians who apply social dominance theories not only do so liberally but also do so without thinking critically about its application. Instead, select trainers and behaviorists (often lacking in certification of any kind) are seen to apply information gleaned from research done on captive wolf populations in the 1970’s to then combine this information with aversive training techniques. Important to note is, “Aversive conditioning can easily lead to learned helplessness, aggression and countercontrol” (O’Heare, 2008, p 75). Aversive training techniques include any methods that present aversive stimuli during an interaction with a dog(s). I use the word “interactions” rather than the more specific phrase “training session” because a training session implies that learning occurs. Often times when individuals (professional or otherwise) apply aversive stimuli during training they do so incorrectly, thus terminating the learning process for the dog(s).

References:

Aloff, Brenda 2005. Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide. Wenatchee, WA:
Dogwise.

Bradshaw, John W.S., Emily J. Blackwell, and Rachel A. Casey 2009. “Dominance in domestic dogs – useful construct or bad habit?” Journal of Veterinary Behavior 4, 135-144.

Coile, Caroline D. 1998. Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.

Donaldson, Jean 1996. The Culture Clash. Berkeley: James & Kenneth Publishers.

Donaldson, Jean, and Ian Dunbar 2007. “Fighting Dominance in a Dog Whispering World” (film). San Francisco: dog*tec.

Drews, Carlos 1993. “The concept and definition of dominance in animal behaviour.” Behaviour 125 (3-4): pages 283-313.

O’Heare, James 2007. “Social Dominance: Useful Construct or Quagmire?” Journal of Applied Companion Animal Behavior Vol. 1., No. 1: pages 56-83.

O’Heare, James 2008. Dominance Theory and Dogs: an in-depth examination of social dominance and its insidious consequences…and an alternative. Ottowa: BehaveTech Publishing.

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A quote from Jean Donaldson about the influence of Cesar Millan

I encourage everyone (and anyone) to visit and explore the site, BeyondCesarMillan.com, as it offers a comprehensive selection of information about the ways in which he interacts with dogs and, in so doing, influences public perception about dogs.

The below quote is from Jean Donaldson, renowned dog trainer, behaviorist, author, and all-around-aw-inspiring individual, and is taken from BeyondCesarMillan.com:

“Practices such as physically confronting aggressive dogs and using of choke collars for fearful dogs are outrageous by even the most diluted dog training standards. A profession that has been making steady gains in its professionalism, technical sophistication and humane standards has been greatly set back. I have long been deeply troubled by the popularity of Mr. Millan as so many will emulate him. To co-opt a word like ‘whispering’ for arcane, violent and technically unsound practice is unconscionable.”

Jean Donaldson, The San Francisco SPCA-Director of The Academy for Dog Trainers

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The term ‘dominance’ gets thrown around a lot in reference to dogs, but are you familiar with what the term actually means?

I’ve missed blogging and wanted to show you all a bit of what I’ve been up to the past few months!  At the end of this last academic semester I wrote two research papers, one of which offers my first attempt at discussing social dominance theory in relation to domestic dogs.  Below I’ve pasted the first few paragraphs, as I think some of you might find it thought provoking.  For those interested I’d be happy to email you the paper in full – it still needs work but I’m confident in the paper as a good start on what will likely be a lifelong point of study.

“Dogma is deleterious; skepticism is sound.”  Aaron Wildavsky

Social dominance theory offers highly problematic models for explaining interactions between humans and domestic dogs (hereafter referred to simply as ‘dog(s)’), as well as between dogs themselves.   Social dominance constructs ignore the realities of dogs, specifically a dog’s process of communication, which is essential to understanding their realities.  Explaining dog behavior in accordance with a social dominance hierarchy can be shown to be both illogical and, most notably, detrimental to the mental and physical health of dogs as well as the human-dog interaction.  An overview of the notion of social dominance reveals an inadequate model for understanding the complexities of dog behavior, particularly in the area of canine communication, which is an essential component of dog-dog and dog-human interactions.  The gravity of addressing and, ultimately, eliminating the use of dominance theories in all dog-related interaction is quite real and will require far more depth and detail than is provided here.  There is a great need to reassess the literature and research on dogs in general and emphasize a focus on their individual realities in order to better understand, and eventually improve, our interactions with these most integral companions.

The application of all models of social dominance in the explanation of human-dog interaction is both illogical and deleterious to that relationship.  The term illogical is used to highlight the lack of sound reasoning found to support the claim that dogs employ a social dominance construct when interacting with other animals.  Academic reviews of the concept of dominance identify anywhere between 13[1] and 21[2] differing definitions, each claiming legitimacy.  Rather than attending to the nuances of each of the many dominance theories I will simply address this problematic construct as a whole.  However, I will note that “social” dominance is the specific type of dominance construct applied to dogs and is therefore the type of dominance referred to in this paper.  In preparation for this paper I familiarized myself with the many and varied notions of dominance by reading James O’Heare’s study (and subsequent book), “Social Dominance: Useful Construct or Quagmire?”  He begins his exploration with 21 notions of social dominance, whittles them down to 18 unique notions and, after a painstakingly detailed investigation, determines that not a single one of the notions claiming to describe social dominance offered “optimum potential as a theory” (O’Heare, 2007, p 80).  Social dominance is a construct created to describe social interactions between two or more animals whose shared aim is to avoid conflict while securing or maintaining power or control, usually over a specific resource (O’Heare, 2007, p 80).  This construct applies to those social interactions between two or more individuals where both individuals have encountered one another on at least two previous occasions; thereby enabling each to use previous knowledge to assess the other’s potential of attaining the “dominant” position.[3]  The struggle for dominance cannot occur during the first meeting of two individuals, as at least two prior meetings are necessary in accordance with the definition.  The academic history of social dominance theory is convoluted, largely because the numerous definitions that exist do so in a constant state of disagreement. Those who have written about social dominance often fail to do so accurately and, “Often researchers argue over social dominance without a clear operational definition and perhaps with different definitions in mind” (O’Heare, 2008, p 15).  The disparity O’Heare notes as most common between definitions is a failure to attend to the “social relationship criterion,” which is essential to the structure of any social dominance theory.  O’Heare explains the necessary conditions for a social relationship as,

“(a) at least two encounters between at least two individuals and (b) previous encounters affect the outcome of future encounters between two specific individuals.” (O’Heare, 2007, p 59)

Any theory that failed to attend to this definition was thrown out, as the theory failed to meet the social relationship criterion.  The rampant disagreement over a basic definition is highly problematic and suggestive of a weak theory.  This undeniable weakness offers further reason to avoid the application of such theories, and certainly with regard to dog-dog and/or dog-human interaction.

to be continued…….

[1] Drews, C. (1993). The concept and definition of dominance in animal behaviour. Behaviour 125 (3-4). Page 283.

[2] O’Heare, J. (2007). Social Dominance: Useful Construct or Quagmire? Journal of Applied Companion Animal Behavior Vol. 1., No. 1. Page 56.

[3] O’Heare, J. (2008). Dominance Theory and Dogs: an in-depth examination of social dominance and its insidious consequences…and an alternative. BehaveTech Publishing. Ottowa. Page 59.

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