Authentic Happiness; New Lambs

I re-read Seligman's Authentic Happiness this weekend.  Ever read it? Seligman is one of the American Psychologists who decided to focus on mental health rather than mental illness, and yeah for him I say. I'm writing about it here because it got me thinking about our happiness and our dogs. In the book, Seligman asks us to determine our "signature strengths," and suggests that the road to happiness is to do what you are good at and what you love. (He has a questionnaire in the book to help you decide your strengths. Mine include Curiousity and Love of Learning. I'm not saying what my weaknesses are!) So here's my question related to dogs: Is that true of our dogs as well? Is their happiness, at least in part, related to having an opportunity to do what they love and what they are good Read More

The Importance of an Emergency Stop; Fetching a Tree

A few nights ago I took the dogs out for their last potty around 10 pm, and things didn't go quite as planned. Instead of walking sleepily out of the house to his favorite place to pee, Will took one step into the fresh air and hurtled like a bullet into the dark behind the house. In a second, no more, I heard a cacophony of snarls, screams and growls. I knew instantly what it was: the local raccoon was raiding the bird feeder behind the house. I was sure this was the problem, since the big garbage can full of grain for the sheep had been raided for a few nights in a row until Jim got creative with bungi cords. The only critter big and strong enough to pry off a metal garbage can lid is a raccoon, and every year one trades wits with us over who gets to eat the grain, so I was sure that's Read More

Nim Chimpsky; Spring is Coming!

I finished a book titled Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human by Elizabeth Hess. It's an interesting book, although I admit to mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it is a fascinating account of a research project designed to determine if a language is a uniquely human trait, or is something that can be used and understood by a non-human primate. It was initiated by a Columbia University psychologist named Herbert Terrace. Terrace was interested in challenging Noam Chomsky's  contention that language is exclusively human (thus the name of the chimp as Nim Chimpsky, I always did love the pun). Mind you, he was not talking about labeling objects or using sounds to communicate; specifically he argued that syntax, or the use of the order of words to create meaning, is uniquely  Read More

Personality versus Temperament; Poor Spot

Here's some more information from IFAAB, based on a talk presented by Dr. Samuel Gosling at UT-Austin. He is studying personality in animals, and has looked at it in species as varied as hyenas and dumpling squid. (And yes, dumpling squid are just as cute as they sound). He spoke briefly about the history of scientific attitudes toward personality in animals--at one point it was almost a dirty word, but in the last twenty years the term (and the concept) has become generally accepted.  (Although he mentioned one researcher who still uses the term "behavioral syndrome" to avoid sounding anthropomorphic.) I must admit, as a someone trained in science myself, I still find it remarkable that the concept of personality in animals was ever controversial. It is astounding how essential it is to Read More

Willie Learns to use his Nose; Sheep Shearing Fun

One of my favorite games with Willie is to put him on sit/stay and then hide one of his toys in another room. I release him and tell him to go find his toy. We both think it's a hoot and get all waggy from the shoulders back together. We've played it on and off for months, but I started doing it on a daily basis in preparation for his surgery and restricted exercise. Until recently, Willie always looked for the hidden toy. It was overwhelmingly clear that he was using his eyes, and if he couldn't see it, he couldn't find it. However, after about a week and a half of playing the game 4-5 times in a row every evening, Willie completely switched strategies and started using his nose. The switch was absolutely obvious: he'd trot out of the room he'd been in with his nose in the air, sniffing Read More