At least that’s how your dog sees you, says Scientific American.
Unlike their wolfish ancestors, who hunted for their food, domestic dogs have become socially attached to humans, and see us as the route to dinner. Hence, those long, soulful – and, we must insist, no matter what scientists say, loving – stares we get when feeding time comes near.
To which we, being tools, generally respond.
Scientific American takes a look at how wolves and dogs have come to differ — when it comes to the source of dinner and more — in the 15,000 or more years since the domestic dog came into being.
The article focuses on a study done several years ago at Eotvos University in Budapest — aimed at determining whether the differences between dogs and wolves, socially and cognitively, were primarily genetic or experiential.
Scientists hand-raised a group of dog puppies and a group of wolf pups, starting six days after they were born.
For the first months of their lives, the wolf and dog pups were in close contact with human foster parents. They lived in the homes of their caregivers and slept with them at night. They were bottle-fed, and then hand-fed, and the human caregivers carried them in a pouch so that both wolf and dog pups could participate in as much of their daily activities as possible.
Both dogs and wolves traveled on public transportation, attended classes, and had extensive experience meeting unfamiliar humans.
At 9 weeks of age, plates of food were shown to both the wolf and dog pups. But the only way either could get it was to have eye contact with the human experimenters.
After the first minute, the dogs began to look at the humans. The wolves never seemed to catch on, staying focused on the food they couldn’t reach.
“In one sense, this is a remarkable example of tool use. Only in this case, the humans were the tools, and the dogs the tool-users,” the article notes.
In a second experiment, involving opening a bin, dogs spontaneously interacted with humans, while the wolves all but ignored the human caregivers.
“Despite the fact that they had been fully socialized, the wolves treated each of the situations as physical problems rather than social ones. Only rarely did they ever attempt to engage in a communicative problem-solving interaction with a human. It’s not that wolves are unintelligent; it’s quite the opposite, in fact. Wolves are cooperative hunters, skilled at negotiating within their own social networks. It’s just that even after being raised by humans, wolves simply do not see humans as potential social partners.”
Posted by jwoestendiek May 1st, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, behavior, cognitive, differences, dog, dogs, domesticated, domestication, experiment, feeding, food, genetics, humans, hunting, interaction, nurture, partners, pets, science, scientific american, social, socialization, society, tool, wolf, wolves
They haven’t saddled them up and landed them gigs at halftime shows, but a group of baboons in Saudi Arabia are reportedly “keeping dogs as pets.”
And, if this video is any indication, the baboons, like humans, can be alternately cruel and loving when it comes to the dogs with whom they co-exist, in this case in a garbage dump outside of Ta’if, not far from the Red Sea.
While the baboons seem to treat pups, or at least the unfortunate one in the beginning of this video, pretty roughly, rest assured nothing too awful happens, and the video goes on to show the two species living, playing and sleeping together, and even grooming each other.
The clip is from a British nature series called “Animals Like Us.”
It came to my attention via Hal Herzog, author of “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals.”
Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, has been studying human interactions with other species for two decades — and says he has never run across a species other than humans that truly can be described as keeping pets. So he was stunned when he came upon the video of the Hamadryas baboons and what seem to be their pet dogs.
At least that’s how the documentary’s narrator explains the relationship. The baboons and dogs eat and sleep together, and travel as a pack. The dogs chase off predators and the baboons treat them as members of the family, he says.
Herzog, as he explains in Animals and Us, his blog for Psychology Today, doesn’t seem to totally buy it. He did some quick research, but thinks a lot more is needed before being certain the dogs and baboons of Ta’if have a pet-and-petkeeper relationship.
“In short, are the Ta’if baboons really keeping dogs as their personal pets or is the YouTube clip just another example of Animal Planet type TV bullshit?
“… Some authorities are doubtful. The anthrozoologist Boria Sax, author of the wonderful new book City of Ravens, wrote … ‘You can’t tell just what is happening from the video alone, and we have only the word of the narrator that the dogs are kept as pets. I am skeptical.’
“Eniko Kubinyi, a canine ethologist at the Family Dog Project in Budapest was more blunt, ‘Dogs as pets of baboons? Science fiction. Baboons and dogs share the same environment, and they are socially plastic, so they enjoy the company of others…’
“I am skeptical, too,” Herzog said. “But I have been obsessed by the video for a week. It raises a host of questions in my mind.”
Might the relationship, for example, be less peaceful if there wasn’t abundant food for all in their shared environment, he wonders.
I wonder whether the baboons use any positive reinforcement to keep the dogs in line, or, as the early part of the video indicates, they opt for the dominant, Millan-esque, pack-leader approach.
Desolate as the landscape looks, the connection between the baboons and dogs in a desert garbage dump seems some fertile ground for research.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 27th, 2011 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, animals and us, animals like us, baboons, behavior, chimps, dogs, dump, environment, hal herzog, humans, interaction, monkeys, nature, pet-keeping, petkeeping, pets, psychology, psychology today, saudi arabia, shared, some we eat, some we hate, some we love, species, ta'if, video, youtube
Observing my dog Ace over the past year – at the beach, in the mountains, in deserts, forests, city streets, suburban lawns and campgrounds all across the USA – I’ve noticed that he is much more interested in some forms of wildlife than he is in others.
Between our travels and the five years we shared before that, I’ve been able to chart the degree of fascination he seems to hold for different species of animals — from those that seem to enthrall him to those whose appearances produce a reaction more like ho-hum, been there, done that.
When I say “chart,” I am not using the term loosely:
Using a scale of 1 to 10 — 1 being barely piquing his curiousity, 10 being the utmost peak of piqued — I have ranked Ace’s seeming degree of interest in cats, crabs, cows and other creatures. Keep in mind, every dog — based on his genes and environment — probably has a different scale of interest in other species. So your actual dog may vary.
I have no idea how much of Ace’s reaction is sight-based, as opposed to scent-based, but it seems he’s most excited about species he has never seen (or smelled) before, or only rarely sees (or smells), whereas those that are a part of every day, squirrels for instance — abbreviated as SQ in the chart above – are worth little more than a yawn.
If, however, there are two squirrels, and they are chasing each other around a tree, or along a telephone line, making squirrel noises, then Ace’s interest rises to an 8.
He was slightly more interested in the white squirrels of Brevard, but that may be because I didn’t let him out of the car, or because he detected I was more interested in them.
Where we are staying now, in a residential neighborhood in Winston-Salem, N.C., there are tons of chipmunks — OK, not tons, but a whole lot — and I’m pretty sure Ace had never seen a chipmunk before. On Ace’s scale, chipmunks rate a 7. He doesn’t that get excited when he sees one, but when they suddenly disappear from view, going down a hole in the ground, his ears prick up, his head rises, he scouts around with a look of concern in his eyes. Then a minute later he seems to have forgotten about them.
Ducks rate a 2, probably because he sees them often — basically everytime he goes to visit my mother (mom rated a 2 with him, but since she’s gotten into the routine of giving him treats, she’s now a full 10).
Don’t get me wrong. He likes the ducks at Arbor Acres, but they don’t seem to stimulate him as much as they did the first time he saw them.
Baby ducks are another story.
He was fascinated — a 9 on the scale — by those my mother was harboring in her room a couple of years back, perhaps because they were babies, perhaps because they were in her room, or, again, maybe because we were so interested in them.
He seems to be very interested in all forms of babies, with the possible exception of human ones, who rate a quick sniff and only a 2 on the Scale of Interest.
Cats rate the maximum 10. While he has seen a lot, and co-resided temporarily with a couple — Miley, for one – his fascination with cats has never diminished.
No other animal species makes Ace perk up as much as a cat. They tend to avoid him (except for staring contests from afar). In our travels, we stayed with at least three. He befriended those who let him. Those who avoided him only made him more intrigued. The only thing more interesting than a cat in full view, it seems, is an almost hidden one whose, say, tail, is poking out from under a chair.
But I’d probably be wrong.
Rabbits rate an 8 with Ace.
He saw several while we were staying in our trailer in the Arizona desert, and lots more — though they seem a shorter and stubbier, slightly more fluffy variety – here in North Carolina.
I don’t know how skunks rate with Ace, and hope I never find out. I don’t know how bears rate, and would just as soon avoid learning that as well.
As for bugs, it depends on what they’re doing and where they are. A cricket in the house can rise to an 8 on his scale. An ant on the sidewalk rates a 1 or less. A bee or fly hovering around his face gets his attention, but is more an annoyance to be snapped at than a species to be studied.
Cows rate about a 4, while horses come in at an average of 6. Horses in a distant pasture aren’t too exciting to him, but one that’s up close merits his scrutiny. He was all but smitten with, and only slightly wary of, a horse named Goblin that we met in Maine.
Turtles rate a 9, in large part — and again I’m using my human brain to guess — because of their novelty and the way they move, taking a few steps, disappearing into their shells, sticking their heads out and taking a few steps more.
Crabs are a curiosity as well, rating a 5 when they are alive and moving, only a 2 when they’ve gone to the great beyond, leaving their earthly shells behind. Then they are but flotsam, part of the potpourri of beach muck that, while definitely worth a good long sniff, is otherwise like a bad summertime novel. After a chapter or less you move on.
That leaves humans, who in some ways are difficult to rank on the scale.
A baby human, to Ace, is like a crab — about a 5, worth sniffing but not lingering with. A baby’s cry must be checked out, but once it is, Ace no longer appreciates it. A human with a bag — no matter what’s in it — is a full 10.
Humans aged 5 to 12 rate a 7. Adult males rate an 8. Adult females rate a 9. Humans with treats rate a 15.
Homeless people rate an 11. I don’t know if it’s because of more interesting scents, or because they usually have bags. Maybe, too, it’s because they often sit on the sidewalk and dogs seem to appreciate it when humans are at their level.
In every town in our travels that we encountered homeless folk — and that was pretty much every town in our travels — Ace seemed to feel the need to at least say hi, if not take a seat or lay down next to them.
I hesitate to add to all my previous anthropomorphizations — assuming that’s a word, and I spelled it right — but permit me one more unscientific human interpretation of my dog’s behavior.
Most dogs experts will tell you compassion is not in a dog’s emotional repertoire. But this is what I like, and tend, to believe:
I think he can sense when somebody needs a friend.
Posted by jwoestendiek June 13th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, adults, america, animals, anthropomorphism, behavior, cats, chart, children, chipmunks, cows, crabs, creatures, curiosity, dog, dogs, ducks, fascination, females, forms, geese, graph, homeless people, horses, interaction, interest, males, observations, pets, rabbits, rate, rating, road trip, seagulls, social, society, species, squirrels, study, travels with ace, turtles, wildlife
If that one got you all worked up — what with all that high energy and yapping — here’s one to calm you down again.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 1st, 2011 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, baby duck, behavior, dog, dogs, duck, ducks, ducks and dogs, funny, interaction, interspecies, pets, terrier, video
Humans need a play stance.
I came to this conclusion yesterday — adding yet another item to the list of things dogs do better than us – as Ace and I arrived for the first time at the only dog park in Winston-Salem proper (and Winston-Salem is pretty proper).
Being new and mostly friendless in the town in which we’ve decided to temporarily base ourselves, we left our quarters in the basement of a mansion and, for a little socialization, headed a couple miles down the road to Washington Park, where dogs can run and play in a fenced-in area.
Of course, Ace hardly romped at all. It being a new scene for him, his first priority was to give all things a good sniffing – other dogs included. But, on this day, he was more the sniffee than the sniffer.
The second I closed the gate behind us, five other dogs — realizing there was a new face — bounded over for a whiff, following so close behind his rear end that, when he stopped abruptly … well you know the rest.
Butts aside, it’s an intriguing thing to watch, this seeming welcome, and one I noticed often back at Ace’s old park in Baltimore. When a first-timer arrives, all the other dogs come over to give the new guy a sniff. To view that as an act of kindness is, of course, anthropomorphic. But still it’s kind of sweet.
This weekend, Ace — though he was used to being the dean of his old park — was the new kid on the block.
He courteously sniffed those who sniffed him, but was more interested in checking out the space, the water bowl and the humans than in playing with the other dogs. We’d been there a full hour before he even chased another dog — all of whom were playing energetically with each other.
Dee Dee, a beagle, and Bailey, a whippet mix, (both pictured atop this post) had great play stances and used them often: Butts pointed skyward, front legs stretched all the way out, heads lowered. It, in the canine world, is a universal signal, a way of saying “You don’t need to be afraid of me, this is all in good fun, it’s playtime, let’s go.”
I can think of no counterpart when it comes to human body language — no gesture or stance we have that is as easily noticeable and understood. The handshake? No, that’s just standard procedure, basic manners. Perhaps the one that came closest was the peace sign.
Rather than having a universal play stance, we resort to words, which often only make things more confusing. We try to make sense of subtle body language and interpret what we think are queues, neither of which we’re that good at, either.
All that could be resolved if we only had a human play stance — a position we could place our bodies in that signifies we’re open to getting to know a fellow human.
We’ve got the war stance down. We all know the fighting stance, or at least enough to put our dukes up. But there’s no simple gesture or motion we humans can make — at least not without possibility of criminal charges or restraining orders – that sends a signal that peace, harmony and fun are ahead.
But why can’t we come up with a play stance — one that says I’m open to getting to know you better, and perhaps even frolicking a bit?
Because that would be too easy for a species as complex as ours? Too honest? Too direct?
It was easier when we were children. A simple ”Wanna play?” sufficed. Somehow, on the way to becoming adults, we started opting instead for far less direct, far stupider comments, like “Do you come here often?” and “What’s your sign?”
Adopting a play stance for the human race, at this point – with all that we have evolved, with how sophisticated and suspicious and manipulative we as a society have become — would be difficult. It might be too late.
Two thumbs up and a grin? Standing with arms outstretched, knees bent, while waving people toward you? Most anything I can come up to signal you are accepting new people into your life would have the exact opposite effect, and send them running.
Ace will make friends his way, and I will make friends mine (which is most often with his help). But between him and my conversational skills, I’ll be fine. And by the way, do you come here often?
Posted by jwoestendiek March 7th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animals, behavior, butts, crouch, dog parks, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, friends, humans, interaction, interpret, meeting, north carolina, park, people, pets, play signal, play stance, queues, reaching out, road trip, signals, sniff, sniffing, social, socialization, socializing, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, winston-salem, wshington park
Breed: Great Dane mix
Age: About 1
Encountered: At Riverside Park in Baltimore
Backstory: We ran into this handsome Great Dane mix at the park Friday. Clyde was found last year at a school near Patterson Park. Signs were posted seeking his owners, who eventually responded and said they didn’t want him anymore, according to his new owner.
He was a new face, for us, and even though Clyde seemed very mellow and non-threatening, Ace, contrary to his normal behavior, seemed to feel the need to let Clyde know who was in charge.
Generally, Ace doesn’t throw his weight around, unless he sees some dogs fighting, or some humping going on. Then he responds swiftly, letting both parties know they need to break it up.
While Ace always acts like he’s the sheriff of the park, he usually doesn’t go all macho — but with Clyde he did, following him around, leaning his head over Clyde’s back, and seemingly challenging him to a showdown at the water fountain.
A couple of times he has met dogs he, at first, didn’t seem to like — usually large black male ones, especially if they still have all their boy equipment. He’ll do a bit of posturing, but usually nothing comes of it and they end up friends.
With Clyde, Ace continued following and hovering over and around him until he left. Clyde didn’t seem bothered by the attempted indimidation. All the Great Danes I’ve known seem cool that way. Their ability to take things in stride is as huge as their actual stride.
Ace, would go on acting strange, long after our encounter with Clyde. Later that night, he switched into wimpy, ultra-sensitive mode, as he’ll do sometimes when there’s a loud noise. He was antsy, his tail between his legs, seemingly afraid to be outside. The heavy winds seemed to be bothering him, or maybe, someone suggested, the full moon was the cause.
In any event, he had, in a matter of hours, gone from Bruce Willis to Woody Allen. He’s quite complex, my dog, with moods as interchangeable as my own, which is all OK. As long as he doesn’t start acting like Mel Gibson.
Posted by jwoestendiek February 20th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animals, baltimore, behavior, breeds, bruce willis, clyde, dog's country, dogs, dominant, encounter, fearful, great dane, interaction, macho, mel gibson, moods, pets, riverside park, road trip, roadside, roadside encounters, submissive, travel, travels with ace, wimpy, woody allen
Someday I am going to do a study that shows 62 percent of all studies do little more than confirm what people with a modicum of common sense already know.
Until then, I will dutifully report on them — dog-related ones, anyway.
A new Canadian study, for instance, concludes that dog owners who live alone and have limited human social support are actually just as lonely as their petless peers.
The Carleton University study’s authors, both of whom own dogs, say that pets aren’t people and can’t compensate for a lack of human relationships, the Vancouver Sun reported.
“Pet ownership isn’t the panacea we think it is,” said co-author Timothy Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at the Ottawa-based university. “… The research indicates that pets don’t fill as much of a hole as we might believe they do. If you don’t have human social support already on your side, you’re still going to fall short.”
However, the study acknowledges, dog owners who do have a social life, with human friends, are indeed less lonely than non-dog owners.
Interestingly, that finding didn’t hold true for people with cats.
The part of the study that does seem worthy of study is that dealing with how, among people who live alone and have ”insufficient” social ties, high attachment to a dog or cat can serve to only increase the pet-owner’s likelihood of loneliness and depression.
People with limited community connections, the study shows, were more likely to humanize their dog — and to nurture their relationship with their dog at the expense of their personal lives. Typically, those people were more depressed, visited the doctor more often and took more medications.
“We all know that pets can be there for us. But if that’s all you have, you run into trouble,” Pychyl said. The study’s authors also acknowledged that, often, dogs can serve as a catalyst for more social interaction.
In other words, dogs aren’t the sole cure for loneliness, but they sure can help — which most of us pretty much already knew.
The Carleton study was published in the journal Anthrozoos.
Posted by jwoestendiek April 6th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, anthrozoos, canadian, carleton university, cats, depression, dog, dogs, friends, humans, interaction, loneliness, lonely, news, ohmidog!, owners, ownership, people, pets, psychology, relationship, social, studies, study, support, timothy pychyl
Two centuries of pet-keeping is the subject of a Montgomery County Historical Society exhibit opening today at the Beall-Dawson House in Rockville.
Entitled “The Other Member of the Family: Montgomery County Pets,” the exhibit runs through Sept. 13, with an opening reception on Saturday May 9 from 4 to 5:30 p.m.
The exhibit looks at pet keeping from the 19th century through the present, the changes that have taken place over time and what our interaction with pets tells us about society.
In addition to historic images from our collections, the exhibit will feature photographs, paintings and mementos of beloved pets provided by Montgomery County residents.
The exhibit is sponsored by Pro Feed Inc., Heavenly Days Animal Crematory, Whole Pet Central, Sugarloaf Pet Gardens Inc., The Groomery & Olde Towne Bed & Biscuit, Animal Exchange and Living Ruff. In connection with the exhibit, this year’s Montgomery County Heritage Days will host a Pet Expo on Sunday, June 28 on the grounds of the Beall-Dawson House.
The Beall-Dawson House is at 103 W. Montgomery Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850. The exhibit is free with museum admission ($3 adults/$2 seniors & students). It’s open from Tuesday to Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.
Posted by jwoestendiek April 28th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, beall-dawson house, cats, dogs, exhibit, historical society, interaction, montgomery county, museum, pet expo, pet-keeping, pets, rockville, society