Comparative and Canine Cognition; Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes

I just finished Everett's book Don't Sleep, There are Snakes, and a more thought-provoking book I can't imagine. As I mentioned in my earlier blog, the author spent much of his life over the last 30 years with a hunter-gatherer tribe, the Piraha, in the Amazon basin. Everett began his work as a missionary and a linguist; his work with the Piraha changed his faith, but not his dedication to studying language. What makes the book so interesting is his discussion about what the Piraha culture has to say about the derivation of human language. Everett is very clear: he argues persuasively that both Chomsky and Skinner got it wrong (in relation to language). In brief, Chomsky argued that language is innate in humans, and that there are universal 'laws' of grammar that are passed down Read More

Brain Dead over Holidays, Great Book

Jim, Will, Lassie and I are having a heavenly break over the holidays. Lots of time off, lots of movies, lots of snow shoeing and, for Jim, endless shoveling. For the first time ever I am contemplating getting a snow blower. Boooo.. another machine, another something that breaks down and won't respond to positive reinforcment. Yeah.... less back breaking work for Jim, and less time for me looking out the window worrying about him. I do some myself, but my back is pathetically problematic so I don't do much. (Car accidents, 15 foot falls off of hay wagons, fainting in the hot sun and breaking your tail bone turn out to be things that are bad for your back. Who knew?) I am reading a book sent by one of my sisters (Wendy Barker, a brilliant poet and creative writing professor, if I do Read More

Jealousy versus Fairness in Dogs Part 2, Amazing Dog Video

Your comments have been so interesting about the 'fair' and/or "jealous" issue that I thought I'd respond in another post for everyone to read. I've included some of your comments, because they add so richly to the discussion. First off, I agree with many who've commented that we need to be very cautious about making interpretations from the results of this study. The bottom line is that while the dog's responsiveness degraded, as expected, if the food reinforcement was taken away, it degraded faster if another dog was observed receiving reinforcement. That was the "inequality aversion" that the authors mentioned (and yes, I believe it was the media that added "fairness" and "jealousy." The dogs also could receive one of two rewards, brown bread or sausage. While a similar primate study Read More

You can teach an old dog new tricks, The Diane Rehm Show

Here's a question for you, based on a column I'm writing for The Bark magazine. The editors asked if I'd write a column about "training old dogs." (The column on training male versus female dogs will be in the next issue... stay tuned!). The question: how does your training vary (or does it?) once your dog becomes geriatric? I've started the column already: "Lassie doesn't sit anymore, at least, not when asked." I'm basing this introduction on the fact that about six months ago, my 15 year old Lassie looked at me blankly when I asked her to sit. She's going deaf, so I thought perhaps she didn't hear me. I gave her our usual visual signal. Nothing. Then I lured her down with a piece of food. She looked up at my eyes and stared at me. And rather than trying any longer, I thought: "Oh, I Read More

Fairness in Dogs? Lassie’s Birthday Party

First things first! Lassie's party was a joy. Many of her friends came to talk, eat and belly rub, and Lassie proclaimed it good. Very good indeed. Lassie reveled in the attention, Willie got tons of petting too and we all ate ourselves silly. Only downside is that I forgot to take photos (camera out and at the ready on the counter...) of Lassie and all her friends. Big disappointment, I have a photo of my first Border collie Drift, at his 15th birthday party, and it means a lot to me to have it. He died 2 months later and I think that's part of what motivated me to have this one, and I'm so glad I did. However, I fully intend and expect to have a rip roaring 16th birthday party for Lassie next year, so I'll just get a photo next year. Here's a picture after the party of Lassie delving Read More