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
Leashed dogs are likely to act more aggressively. Dogs, researchers ascertained, like to sniff other dogs, especially those of the opposite sex.
But here’s one fascinating finding that I think is worth much more research: Dogs being walked by men are four times more likely to threaten and bite other dogs.
That’s pretty stunning, and merits further investigation — into dog, into man, but even moreso into dogs’ abilities to read our emotions, better even, perhaps, than we can read our own.
The study, to be published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science, found that the sex of the owner had the biggest effect on whether or not a dog will threaten or bite another dog.
“We propose that the occurrence of threat and biting in dogs on a walk may have some connection with aggressive tendencies and/or impulsivity in people,” Petr Rezac and his team at Mendel University wrote.
They add: “Dogs are able to perceive subtle messages of threat emitted by another dog. Simultaneously, dogs are unusually skilled at reading human social and communicative behavior.”
Rezac is an associate professor in the Department of Animal Morphology, Physiology and Genetics. He and his colleagues studied close to 2,000 dog-dog interactions on owner-led walks held in the city of Brno, according to Discovery News.
What they observed the most, as you might expect, was sniffing and peeing. And most of the researchers’ conclusions are already known by anyone with a dog:
Males sniff females more often, males and females prefer play with each other than with members of their own sex, adult males mark the most, puppies play together more than twice as often as adults, dogs prefer to play with similarly sized individuals and dogs tend to be more aggressive when restrained by a leash.
(Scientists, meanwhile, according to my own observations, are prone to sniffing, scratching their heads and marking their turf. They don’t have time to play, and tend to be aggressive when their funding is threatened. They should almost always be leashed.)
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in the process of trying to figure dogs out, man learned a thing or two about his own self?
I think much helpful-to-humans information is there, inside dogs, but it mostly goes untapped — because we speak different languages, because we don’t often look for it, and for reasons of focus. Scientists, like detectives building a case against a suspect, sometimes develop tunnel vision, to the extent that bigger, broader potential revelations, and sometimes ethics and boundaries, go ignored.
The Czech study, for example, leads me to wonder whether, in addition to studying the dogs, scientists might want to pay closer attention to those dog walkers, and all the baggage and pent-up hostilities they may be carrying around — whether they have those emotions on a leash, or too tight a leash, or no leash at all.
I don’t think it’s a Czech thing. And, in my experience, it’s not a gender thing. Generally, I’ve found that the most tightly wound pet owners — male or female — have the most unpredictable dogs.
Dogs, in large part, mirror their owners.
But their powers go far beyond mere reflection. Let’s go back to those pent-up hostilities. Sometimes they are undectable to psychiatrists. Sometimes they are undectable to the person they are pent-up in. Yet dogs have the power to sense them, and sometimes to calm them.
I’m not saying dogs know more than scientists — or am I? — only that dogs sense and know things we don’t. If only we could figure out a non-intrusive and polite way to ask the dogs to share with us all the things they have the power to sense — things that, even with all our scientific instruments, we humans can’t.
Maybe then — leashed or unleashed, male or female, dog or human — we could all just get along.
(Photo: By John Woestendiek)
(PS: The dogs pictured above were playing, not fighting)
Posted by jwoestendiek November 7th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aggressive, animal behavior, animals, behavior, communication, conclusions, czech republic, dog, dog walking, dogs, females, findings, gender, hostile, humans, inside dogs, insights, leashed, leashes, males, mendel university, mirror, observation, peeing, perception, petr rezac, pets, playing, reading, reflect, reflection, research, science, scientists, sense, sensing, sex, sniffing, study, walker, walking
No, that’s not the football team.
These rodent warriors do battle not on the gridiron, but in the laboratory, where scientists stage bouts, and — while not charging admission or, we hope, taking bets — videotape them, to try and better understand mouse aggression.
The same sort of thing — emphasis on “sort” — Michael Vick, and many others, have gone to prison for doing with dogs.
Now PETA has joined in an effort to bring an end to the staged fights.
In a letter to the Dane County district attorney, PETA and the Madison-based Alliance for Animals allege University of Wisconsin scientists are violating a law that says “no person may intentionally instigate” a fight between animals.
The two groups cite at least 35 articles published by UW researchers since 1999 that described fights between mice, part of a federally funded effort by researchers to study aggressive behavior.
If you’re wondering why not just study professional wrestling instead — which often offers its own version of a cage match — it may be because the scientists, as part of the study, remove and probe the brains of the mice when their fighting careers end. (Try doing that with a professional wrestler and you’d be in trouble.)
Eric Sandgren, director of animal research at the university, told the Wisconsin State Journal that he doesn’t believe the law PETA is citing is intended to prohibit scientific research, but rather to prevent cockfighting, dog fighting or bullfighting. “Aggression research like this isn’t really the point of the law,” he said.
He said the “fights” are not blood-letting affairs; they generally involve mice displaying aggressive behavior but then backing away. The researchers “don’t see animals that have wounds,” he said. “They don’t see animals that are limping.”
The complaint is similar to one the Alliance for Animals and PETA filed against the University of Wisconsin a year ago that accused researchers of violating a state law that prohibits killing animals through decompression. A special prosecutor decided not to bring charges in that matter.
All the “meddling” by animal rights groups led the state legislature’s budget committee last month to approve a provision specifying “that current law provisions prohibiting crimes against animals would not apply to persons engaged in bona fide scientific research…”
Rick Bogle, co-director of Alliance for Animals, said the provision would, in effect, allow university researchers to do anything they wanted with animals.
“Their argument, the way I read it, is the state should absolutely have no say in what goes on in the state university involving animals,” he said.
According to PETA, the university has spent “millions of tax dollars on staging violent fights between animals in their laboratories for cruel aggression experiments. Experimenters lock large, aggressive mice and smaller, weaker mice together in cages that the animals can’t escape from and then watch as the weaker mice are beaten up and bitten repeatedly for as long as 10 minutes. The bouts are videotaped, and experimenters count the number of “attacks” per fight. The winners are then killed and have their brains cut out and dissected.”
You can read PETA’s letter to the Dane County District Attorney here.
Posted by jwoestendiek July 5th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aggression, aggressive, alliance for animals, behavior, bouts, dane county, experiment, fighting, fighting animals, fights, fights between animals, investigation, laboratory, laboratory animals, law, madison, mice, mouse, peta, prosecution, research, science, scientists, staged, staging, study, university of wisconsin
I’ve written my name in books before — but always as a reminder to other people to keep their grubby paws off of them, or at least return them when they’re done.
But yesterday was a first: I signed my own book — own, as in the one I wrote.
So when my publisher called to find out where to send the author’s copies of “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend,” I used my brother’s address, and he delivered them over the weekend.
I won’t compare the excitement of tearing open that cardboard box to seeing your baby arrive — that would be wrong — but there are some similarities, the main ones being, “Wow, that came out of me?” and the realization that all the labor pains were worth it after all.
The book is about the cloning of dogs — how, and why, it came to be achieved, and the colorful characters involved: from the Arizona billionaire who funded the initial research; to the scientists who produced Snuppy, the first canine clone, in South Korea; to those who marketed the service (even before the first dog was cloned); to those who bought it, the bereaved pet owners seeking replicas of dogs dead or near death.
It was two years in the making (the book, not dog cloning) — a project I undertook right after I left the Baltimore Sun, and one that wouldn’t have been accomplished were it not for the help of a lot of people.
My first autographed copy is being sent to one of them, Rona Kim, a law student in Seoul who served as my guide and interpreter during my visit to Korea, and without whom I would have probably spent three-fourths of my time there hopelessly lost.
The official release date of “DOG, INC.” is Dec. 30, but it can be pre-ordered now from all the major retailers.
By then, Ace and I will be headed back east — first to Washington for a scheduled appearance on the Diane Rehm show Jan. 5 (me, not Ace), then to Baltimore, where we hope to host a couple of book signing parties (details to come) and find a place to call home.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 8th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, author, autographed, baltimore, book, book signing, books, clone, cloned, clones, cloning, dead, death, dog, dog inc., dogs, grief, john woestendiek, korea, man's best friend, marketing, new release, non-fiction, order, pets, pre order, publishing, release, rona kim, science, scientists, seoul, signing, snuppy, travels with ace, uncanny inside story
According to a report in the London Telegraph, the researchers say the change has taken place over the course of just a few generations.
While 19th century dogs were selected for breeding based on their strength and skills — such as guarding homes, retrieving quarry or watching over livestock — today’s dogs are more likely to be chosen strictly for their appearance. As a result, the researchers say, the are less responsive to commands and not as alert or attentive.
“Modern breeding practices are affecting the behavior and mental abilities of pedigree breeds as well as their physical features,” said Kenth Svartberg, an ethologist from Stockholm University and author of the research report.
Dr. Svartberg tested 13,000 dogs on characteristics such as sociability and curiosity to help him rate 31 different breeds. He found that those bred for appearance, and especially for shows, displayed reduced ability levels. He also found that attractive appearance was often linked with introversion and a boring personality.
The worst affected working breeds were smooth collies, once a herding dog, and Rhodesian ridgebacks, which were used for hunting.
(Image from My Dog’s Brain, by Vermont artist Stephen Huneck)
Posted by jwoestendiek February 2nd, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: agile, alert, appearance, attentive, breeders, breeding, breeds, dogs, dumber, looks, my dog's brain, practices, purebreds, research, scientists, skills, standards, stephen huneck, stockholm university, sweden, swedish
An international team of scientists has identified what it believes is the world’s first known dog, and says that it lived in Belgium 31,700 years ago — a good 17,000 years earlier than what was previously thought to be the earliest dog, found in Russia.
The prehistoric dog’s remains were excavated at Goyet Cave in Belgium, suggesting to the researchers that the Aurignacian people of Europe from the Upper Paleolithic period were the first to domesticate dogs, the Discovery Channel reports.
“The most remarkable difference between these dogs and recent dog breeds is the size of the teeth,” lead author Mietje Germonpre told Discovery News, comparing the tooth size more to wolves than dogs.
The scientists say — based on Isotopic analysis of the bones found – that the earliest dogs subsisted on horse, musk ox and reindeer.
Germonpre, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, said the Paleolithic dogs most resemble the Siberian husky, but were somewhat larger.
For the study, which has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the scientists analyzed 117 skulls of recent and fossil large members of the Canidae family, which includes dogs, wolves and foxes.
Germonpre believes dog domestication might have begun when the prehistoric hunters killed a female wolf and then brought home her pups.
Posted by jwoestendiek October 17th, 2008 under Muttsblog.
Tags: archaeology, aurignacian, belgium, breeds, canidae, discovery, dogs, domestication, fossils, germonpre, goyet cave, news, origin, paleolithic, paleontology, prehistoric dog, russia, science, scientists, skulls, wolves, world's first dog
A study published in the journal Biology Letters last week found that human yawns are contagious to dogs — the contagious yawn being a behavior once thought limited to humans and chimps.
In a study performed at London’s Birbeck College, 72 percent of 29 dogs tested yawned after observing a person doing so — a clear sign that dogs read human cues.
(The possibility that they were just really bored with the experiment was not addressed.)
Atsushi Senju and colleagues at Birkbeck College say mimicking human yawns is a sign of empathy. What’s surprising about dogs doing it is that empathy is not usually found in animals without self-awareness, which scientists say dogs lack.
Each of the 29 dogs watched a researcher perform a large yawn and then, in the control portion of the experiment, watched the same researcher merely open his mouth. No dogs yawned in the control portion. When the researcher yawned, dogs yawned contagiously 72 percent of the time, which is an even higher rate than reported in humans or chimps.
Scientists believe dogs lack a sense of self because they generally don’t recognize themselves in a mirror, as humans and chimps, dolphins and sometimes — when scientists can find a mirror large enough — elephants, do.
A sense of self is considered a prerequisite for understanding the feelings of others, (though it’s always seemed to me that too large of one can preclude that possibility). In my non-scientific view, it’s precisely that combination — the lack of self-awareness and abundance of empathy — that makes dogs so appealing.
But that’s just — Y-a-a-a-a-w-n-n — my opinion.