Tag: alexandra horowitz
As that annual parade of the pedigreed known as the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show unfolded at Madison Square Garden, there has been a debate over purebred dogs going on in the pages of the New York Times, at least its digital ones.
It’s worth checking out, especially, in my view, two of the opinion pieces from two of my favorite dog experts.
Alexandra Horowitz, professor of psychology at Barnard College and author of “Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know,” hits on several important points in a piece focused mainly on the link between breed standards and inherited disorders.
She cites research showing that, among the most popular breeds, almost every one has developed some type of inherited disorder stemming from breed standards that prescribe how a dog should look.
Bulldogs and pugs have broad and shortened heads that lead to obstructions in breathing. Many large breeds have debilitating hip and elbow dysplasias. Shar-Peis, because of their wrinkly skin, are prone to eye ulcerations. The Cavalier King Charles spaniel may have a brain that grows too large for its skull, an extremely painful condition called syringomyelia.
By changing the breed standards — making them more health-contingent than looks-contingent, the health of dozens of breeds could be improved, she notes.
Horowitz also addresses the matter of personality. Although AKC breed standards make it sound like a dog’s personality is genetically determined, that’s not the case, she says.
” … A dog is not merchandise whose behavior (outside of a few hard-wired ones, like pointing) can be predicted ahead of time.
“While many owners may see breed-typical personalities in their dogs (we humans do tend to spot just the evidence which supports our theories), there is simply no guarantee that a dog will behave just so. Witness the cases of cloned — genetically identical — pets who have, to their owners’ great surprise, quite different personalities.”
Making it sound like the personality of all dogs can be predicted by what breed they are is problematic, she notes.
“When a dog does not behave in accordance with her ‘billing,’ owners call this a ‘behavior problem’ — the single greatest reason for relinquishment of a dog to a shelter. Thus, inadvertently, breed standards lead potential adopters to treat them more like products with reliable features.
“Dogs are individuals, and should be treated thusly.”
In another piece presented in the Times “Room for Debate” feature, James Serpell, the Marie Moore professor of animal welfare at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society, looks at what kennel clubs, dog shows and the breed standards they espouse, has led to.
For one, inbreeding, as a way to produce dogs that most closely fit the written standards, or in some cases the interpretation thereof.
“Not only were the original gene pools of many breeds very small to begin with, but breeders have also accentuated the problem by selectively breeding from relatively small numbers of “champion sires” and/or by mating together closely related individuals.
“Nowadays, many breeds are highly inbred and express an extraordinary variety of genetic defects as a consequence: defects ranging from anatomical problems, like hip dysplasia, that cause chronic suffering, to impaired immune function and loss of resistance to fatal diseases like cancer. The only sensible way out of this genetic dead-end is through selective out-crossing with dogs from other breeds, but this is considered anathema by most breeders since it would inevitably affect the genetic “purity” of their breeds…”
“When standards do more harm than good, they should either be revised or abandoned altogether. We owe it to the dogs.”
A compelling argument is also made by Mark Derr, an author who was among the first to bring attention to the problems that have been created in the quest for purity and predictability: “It is long past time to make changes to standards that improve dogs’ lives or discontinue their breeding,” he concludes.
Less in line with my thinking — but I”ll point you to it, anyway – was a piece submitted by Lilian Barber, who breeds, judges and writes about Italian greyhounds.
Barber, president of the Kennel Club of Palm Springs, Calif., argues that breed standards are about more than appearance.
“Breeding dogs that fit a written standard isn’t just about appearance. Different breeds have different traits. It’s like choosing a vehicle. In many cases a two-door sedan will suffice, but sometimes a truck is needed.”
She continues, fortunately shifting out of the motor vehicle analogy:
”Most breeders of purebreds support research regarding the genetic health of their breeds and plan their matings carefully to insure that the offspring will be healthy. It would make little sense to put time, effort, money and passion into breeding unhealthy dogs … Those dogs are a huge and vital part of our lives.”
You can find links to all the opinion pieces here.
Posted by jwoestendiek February 14th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alexandra horowitz, animals, breed standards, breeds, cloning, debate, dog, dog shows, dogs, experts, genetic, genetics, health, inbreeding, inherited, james serpell, kennel club, mark derr, new york times, opinions, personality, pets, problems, purebreds, room for debate, standards, traits, westminster
The Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab in New York City is looking for some playful dogs, and their playful humans.
The lab at Barnard College, run by Alexandra Horowitz , author of Inside of a Dog,” is investigating the different ways people and dogs play together and the behaviors they use.
Whether you and your dog wrestle, engage in tug of war, play fetch, or Scrabble (one of these days I will win), the lab wants to see the two of you in action, and invites you to submit a video.
It’s cataloging all the ways, traditional and non, that people play with their dogs. Project: Play with Your Dog is open to anyone, in any country, and short video submissions — under 60 seconds — are welcome.
To participate, make a video and upload it to the study website. You’ll also be asked to complete a short survey. Those taking part can add a picture to the project’s Wall of Contributors.
Julie Hecht, the canine behavioral researcher who manages the lab, describes it as an opportunity for dog lovers around the world to get involved in scientific research into dog behavior.
“While dog-dog play has been studied extensively, dog-person play, which takes on a different form and appears to have different rules, has not attracted nearly as much scholarly attention,” Hecht noted in a guest blog for Scientific American.
Hecht, who’s also a science writer, adjunct professor in the Anthrozoology Masters Program at Canisius College, and blogger, says play behaviors arise early in a dog’s life. From three weeks onward, puppies show behaviors like wrestling, rolling over, biting, rearing and reciprocal chase.
For dogs, play appears to help them learn social skills such as bite inhibition, and other behaviors they will use the rest of their lives.
Play often incorporates behaviors also found in aggressive interactions, but dogs seem to have found a way to let other dogs know that it is play time, not fight time — the hiney-raised play stance for instance.
“Dog-dog play is more similar to an episode of the Three Stooges than you might have imagined,” Hecht says.
Dog-human play might have some similarities, and some differences — and the lab plans to try and figure that, among other things, out.
Tugging games between dog and human, for instance, seem to be more about keeping the interaction with a human going rather than gaining possession of the object being tugged — at least to the dog.
To learn more about the study, and get details on how to join, visit www.DogHumanPlay.com.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 14th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alexandra horowitz, animals, barnard, behavior, biting, chase, cognition, dog, dog cognition lab, dog human play, dog-dog, dog-human, dogs, fetch, horowitz, humans, julie hecht, owners, pets, play, play stance, play with your dog, playing, poject, research, run, sought, study, submissions, tug, video, videos
Tis the season for putting ornaments on trees, hanging stockings from the mantle, and, if you’re a dog, placing your nose directly into the crotch of any and all visitors who drop by the house for a bit of Christmas cheer.
Ah yes, the crotch sniff, next to the leg hump about the most embarassing behavior — for us, anyway — that our dog can engage in.
If you’ve ever wondered why your dog, while showing little or no interest in your crotch, is so fascinated by the laps of visitors, help is on the way.
That sketch on the left shows where dogs sniff their owners — mostly, as you can see by the lines and darkened areas, the arms and face.
The one below shows where dogs sniff strangers, and there seems a much greater focus on the groin.
This comes courtesy of our friend Julie Hecht, who produces the blog Dog Spies. She’s nosing through existing research, and has posted the first of a two-part series on the phenomenon.
Hecht works with Alexandra Horowitz at the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, which regularly tries to figure out why dogs do the things they do — the scientific reasons, as opposed those we tend to arrive at anthropomorphically.
“Behavioural variability of olfactory exploration of the pet dog in relation to human adults.”
(Riotous bunch, those scientists.)
For their sniffing simulation, researchers had human volunteers lay motionless on the floor with their eyes closed for five minutes.
The researchers first observed pet dogs sniffing their owners. Then they watched as dogs sniffed an unknown person. They kept count of the areas sniffed, and made charts. (I’m guessing they didn’t use those red arrows, though.)
Dogs spent more time sniffing strangers than their owners, and, with strangers, more time poking about the crotch zone.
The simple explanation: Your dog already has a good sense of how you and most regular visitors smell. With a new person though, they tend to want to get better aquainted. They do that primarily with their noses.
As for why they sniff where they sniff, I don’t know — and I’m hoping part two of Julie’s post will clear the air and explain the allure of the crotch; whether it’s a matter of going for the most pungent spot, or the most personal and guarded one, or if maybe it, scent wise, it’s simply the most revealing.
Dog only knows.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 14th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alexandra horowitz, animals, aroma, barnard college, behavior, body, crotch, dog, dog cognition lab, dog spies, dogs, explained, exploration, filiatre, getting acquainted, groin, humans, julie hecht, lap, meeting, olfactory, pets, regions, research, scents, science, scientists, smell, sniff, sniffing, study
If you live in the New York City area and have a multi-dog household, you (and your multi-dogs) have a chance to participate in an ongoing study being conducted by the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College.
Researchers at the lab are trying to figure out if dogs have a sense of fairness.
If you, like me, get a little nervous when you see the words “dog” and “laboratory” in the same sentence, don’t worry. This research has the ohmidog! seal of approval — the only thing that will enter their bodies will be treats.
In the study, dogs will be exposed to “fair” and “unfair” trainers — in terms of how they dispense treats — to see how they react.
Time slots are available between 1 and 5 p.m. on Sunday, October 23, and the researchers will take up only about 15 minutes of your dog’s time.
In addition to contributing to our human understanding of what’s going on inside dogs’ heads, your pet will receive a bag of treats. The testing will take place at Animal Haven, 251 Centre Street in SoHo.
The research project is led by Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know and a professor at Barnard College.
While the researchers are looking for dogs that live in families with multiple dogs, only one dog needs to attend, though others are welcome. The only other requirements are that your dog enjoys treats, has no food allergies, will sit for a treat, and is comfortable around other dogs and people.
To learn more or sign up, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by jwoestendiek October 7th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alexandra horowitz, animals, barnard college, cognition, dog, dog cognition, dogs, fairness, horowitz dog cognition lab, pets, research, study, treats
Remember Denver, the guilty, oh-so-guilty, looking yellow lab that was captured on video by her owner while she was being interrogated in the case of the missing cat treats?
We suggested — partly in jest — that she might be innocent, that appearances can be deceiving, not to mention misinterpreted, and that, just maybe, the cat did it.
Now — with the video having gone viral, with dog and owner having appeared on the ABC’s Good Morning America, with a line of “guilty dog” merchandise having been spawned — there’s more reason to believe that Denver might have been wrongly convicted. How guilty one looks and how guilty one is are two different things — especially when it comes to dogs.
Guilt, research shows, may be just another human emotion that dog owners anthropomorphically ascribe to dogs.
And all those behaviors Denver exhibited – avoiding eye contact, lying down, rolling into a submissive position, dropping the tail, holding down the ears or head, raising a paw – are more likely triggered by the owner’s semi-scolding tones than any feelings of “remorse.”
This reminder/revelation comes from someone who knows, who did her master’s dissertation on this very topic, and who produces one of my new favorite blogs, Dog Spies.
Julie Hecht is a New York-based behavioral researcher who has worked with Patricia McConnell and Alexandra Horowitz. She wrote her dissertation at the University of Edinburg on “Anthropomorphism and ‘guilty’ behavior in the dog,” and did her research with the Family Dog Project in Budapest, Hungary. She recently started Dog Spies, which focuses on the science behind dog behaviors and the dog-human relationship, and she divides her time between research, lecturing, blogging and working with individual pet owners.
As was my goal (plug alert) in my recently published book, “DOG, INC: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend,” she attempts to take the boring out of science, thereby making it interesting and understandable. “Scientific journals should be titled, ‘Lots of great information within, a tad boring to read!’ Dog Spies translates that information and shares it with you,” reads the introduction to her blog.
Judging from her “guilty dog” blog entry — and you know its trustworthy, because it has footnotes – Denver’s appearance, with her owners, on the ABC morning show raised her hackles a bit.
“According to the dictionary, ‘news’ is ‘information about recent events or happenings.’ I did not see any news during that morning show. Instead, I saw a bunch of morning personalities throwing out assumptions and offering the audience pleasing banter and humorous judgments about dogs. They provide no real information or ‘news’ about what happened to the cat treats.”
Here Hecht has hit on one of my pet peeves — pun definitely not intended. Rather than shedding some light, doing some research, and furthering our understanding of canines, the ABC segment — like so much of what the media, blogs included, feed us about dogs — was the kind of cutesy, substance-free fluff that reinforces misinformation and misunderstanding.
Like most everyone else, the smiling morning show hosts concluded Denver must have eaten the cat treats. When shown the empty bag and asked, “Did you do this?” Denver displays squinting eyes, averts her head and makes a highly laughable presentation of her teeth.
Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.
Or maybe not.
Hecht cites a 2008 research paper that says 74 percent of dog owners attribute guilt to dogs, and believe dogs know when they have done something owners disapprove of. But scientific research shows that it’s not knowledge of a misdeed, or remorse, that leads to the guilty look, but an owner’s scolding. (See the New York Times piece, “It’s an Owner’s Scolding That Makes a ‘Guilty’ Dog.”)
Or, see this — a video Hecht made that shows a dog named Gidget being falsely accused:
As Alexandra Horowitz, author of “Inside of a Dog,” once put it: “We’ve trained them that when they see us angry, they give us that guilty look. I’m not saying they don’t feel guilt … I can’t test that yet. But we generate the context that prompts them to produce this look.
Why then, in the guilty dog video gone viral, does Denver show these behaviors when the other, presumed innocent family dog, Masey, does not?
“Research finds that even post-transgression, not all dogs show the ‘guilty look’ in the presence of a non-scolding owner,” Hecht says. And, transgressions aside, it might be the simple fact that Denver is a more expressively submissive dog, according to Hecht, who says part two of her entry on the “guilty dog look” will be appearing soon on her blog.
Why do dogs show what appears to be a guilty look more so than do their progenitors, wolves?
“Dogs have, for the most part, incredibly malleable and expressive faces (much more so than, say, cats) and from this, we can often see the subtleties of their eyebrows going down or up or their wide forward-facing eyes, becoming wider. All of these things could impact how humans attribute mental states to dogs,” Hecht told me.
My theory is there’s more at play — though maybe I’m giving dogs more intellectual credit than they deserve. I think mastering the guilty look is another way dogs have evolved since their domestication, and to cope with their domestication — part of their ongoing adaption to pethood. By showing submission, some of them may have have figured out, they can keep the peace, and maybe even get a belly rub or a Milkbone.
To me, the even more interesting question, when it comes to “the guilty look,” is whether, even before the scolding comes, dogs can sense it’s about to. Before a word comes out of the owner’s mouth, before an angry stance is even taken, can dogs sense that some displeasure is churning within us?
I, without any research or footnotes to back me, believe so. My scientific explanation for this: It’s magic.
Dogs are figuring us out. Which, until recent years, is maybe more than they could say about us. We’ve always been more concerned with their brawn than their brain, more concerned with their beauty than their behavior. It’s man’s hand that has led to the vast diversity of shapes and sizes in dogs. And while breeders have begun to put a higher priority on temperament, it can still be argued that appearance is placed above all else.
Could it be, in their way – without the aid of microscopes, opposable thumbs or access to our pedigrees – dogs are looking more deeply into us than we are into them? Could it be, during their time in domestication, dogs, as a species, have amassed a wealth of knowledge on how to best get along with humans, and have become even better at doing so than humans?
I think there’s more at work than breeding and genetics and instinct when it comes to dog behavior. An ongoing and not fully understood evolution is at play in the dog-human relationship. And that is the reason – all those unanswered questions about behavior, coupled with those we wrongly assume we know the answers to – why dog blogs of substance, like Hecht’s, are important.
At the same time, though, I rue the day when our understanding of dog behavior is complete — when we can explain every act of dog as stemming from some lingering instinct, or adaptation to their domestication. For then the magic will be gone.
I want all three — my science, my magic and my dog. Does that make me greedy?
Posted by jwoestendiek April 27th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: abc, adaptation, alexandra horowitz, animals, anthropomorphism, appearances, behavior, cat treats, cognition, coverage, denver, dog, dog inc., dog spies, dog-human, dogs, dogs guilty look, domestication, emotions, feelings, good morning america, guilt, guilty, guilty look, humans, inside of a dog, instinct, julie hecht, looks, media, morning show, news, patricia mcconnell, pets, relationship, remorse, scolding, submission, submissive, video, viral
Your dog licks your face because he loves you, right?
Ah, if it were only that simple.
There are those that will assure you that yes, those licks mean affection — your “fur babies” are showering you with, in addition to a little slobber, love and gratitude.
There are also those more scientific types who will dissect the act so emotionlessly as to leave you never wanting another lick again — or perhaps even another dog, or at least not another dog book.
Thank Dog, then, for Alexandra Horowitz, who in her new book “Inside of a Dog,” manages to probe doggie behavior in a manner both scientific and passionate, without stomping on the sanctity of the human-dog bond like it’s a cigarette in need of extinguishing.
The book’s title comes from the Groucho Marx quote: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
What makes “Inside of a Dog,” released in September, one of the best dog books of the year is that it’s not too dark to read. Horowitz, a psychology professor, former staff member at The New Yorker, and long-time dog-lover is able — based in equal parts on her scientific research and her own personal experiences as a dog owner — to correct the many misconceptions about dogs without snuffing out the special light we see inside them.
As for those face licks, they have an evolutionary basis — it originally was a way for pups to encourage their moms and dads to regurgitate what they had eaten while hunting, thus sharing their prechewed bounty.
That doesn’t mean your dog is trying to make you puke everytime it licks your face, only that what’s now a ritualized greeting began that way.
The book gets to the root of other canine behaviors, as well, including:
· How dogs tell — and actually smell — time.
· Why it’s been futile leaving your television on for your dog all these years (and why this may be different now).
· How your dog really feels about that raincoat you make him wear.
· Why some dogs joyfully retrieve tossed balls and sticks while others just stare at you like you’re a fool for throwing them.
While not a training manual, it’s a book every dog trainer should read, and perhaps every dog owner who wants to truly understand not just what their pet means to them, but what their pet means.
The book goes into how dogs see, smell and hear the world, what their barks mean, what their tail wags mean. And it avoids the common oversimplifications associated with seeing dogs solely in terms of human behavior, or seeing them solely as modern-day wolves.
Horowitz, and the book, show some appreciation and understanding of the evolutions that have taken place, and continue to — the evolution of dogs, the evolution of humans, and the evolution of the bond between the two.
(Learn more about the latest dog books at ohmidog’s book page, Good Dog Reads.)
Posted by jwoestendiek November 8th, 2009 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: alexandra horowitz, behavior, bond, book, books, books on dogs, cognitive, dog, dog books, dogs, evolution, good dog reads, human, inside of a dog, kiss, know, lick, misconceptions, psychology, regurgitate, relationship, scientist, see, smell, tail, understanding, wag