Consciousness in Dogs

maggie tongue flick on wall 2014

Ray Coppinger loves to start controversies, and he did a great job of it at the SPARCS Conference in June. He began his talk by stating that dogs are have no consciousness and are merely "acting out motor patterns." It's always hard to know what Ray believes and what he is saying to generate a conversation, but needless to say, he was highly successful at the latter. The number of attendees who believed that dogs are not conscious or self aware was small indeed, no surprise there. I'll say right off the bat that I'm one of those who believe that dogs are indeed conscious and aware, but I also think it is an important conversation to have. First, because the more we learn about comparative mental states between people and non-human animals the better. Second, because the minds of other Read More

If I Only Had a Tail…

willie and frisbee 12-11

This is the time of year that I regret not having a tail. If I had one, I could curl it around my nose as did Nellie and Polly this morning, the thermometer descending toward single digits. Better yet, I could use it to wag from the shoulders back, like Willie does when Jim comes home. Or perhaps I could toss it up into the air, stiff and straight, and leave a committee meeting in a huff, my tail rising up like a standard held high in medieval England. I'm not sure where that image comes from, given that I've never left a committee meeting in a huff in my life. But then, it doesn't mean I haven't wanted to, and if I did, wouldn't a raised tail make it that much more effective? The fact is, tails are amazing things. Just look at all the functions that tails provide: BALANCE (see Willie Read More

Serious Dog Fighting: Questions to Ask if Considering “What Next?”

zucc yum 9-13

Recently I had a discussion with good friends and colleagues about how to handle difficult cases in which two dogs have engaged in extremely serious fights in the home. We found ourselves sorting through what factors need to be considered if re-homing is on the table. This is a common problem brought to behaviorists; I must have seen hundreds of clients who had dogs who did not get along. At all. I don't mean dogs who had minor tiffs, or dogs who were occasionally possessive-aggressive ("My couch! My human!), but dogs who had truly serious issues and were making life at home less than relaxing, if not downright dangerous. Sometimes they had serious, injurious fights, sometimes one dog lived in obvious terror of the other, even though actual fights were rare or non existent, and sometimes Read More

Who is Going to Win?

tootsie eval

An alert Facebook reader sent in this video of two dogs posturing over some kibble scattered on the ground. Oh my, oh my, so much to say about what goes on here, but I'm going to hold my comments until you have had a chance to look at it. Here's my suggestion: Watch the entire video before reading any comments, and write down, as soon as you think you have enough information, 1) which dog is going to get the food and 2) why. A couple of points to make before you watch it: First, I'll tell you right off that there is no fight, so don't worry that you are about to watch a canine snuff movie. Second, after you make your decision about who is going to win, continue to watch closely and note all the behaviors that could be communicative in nature.  Then play it again (and again) to see Read More

The Tragedy of Wolf Dogs

back yard dug up

  This is Bits. He is a hybrid wolfdog. Or maybe some coyote, no one knows. He is drop-dead gorgeous and is flat out terrified of strangers. He has been living with Jayne and Mike Belskey at the Grey Wolf Central Wisconsin Rescue¬† for two years now, having been rescued by them as a panicked, huddled, terrified mess from a shelter. It made me happier than I can say that after two hours after I arrived in the house he relaxed enough to lie down only a few feet away from me, albeit with a table between us. Maybe it was because I did lots of look aways, yawned a lot, avoided eye contact and kept my voice down. Maybe not, but I hereby admit to being thrilled to be in the same room with him, and was absolutely overwhelmed by his beauty. And heartbroken, because wolfdogs should break Read More