The Beauty of the “Ready” Cue


Ah, spring is finally coming. Along with the mud. I don't know about you, but here in Southern Wisconsin the winter has been so severe that the ground is frozen as far as six feet down. Six vertical feet, just in case you've never had to dig fence post holes, is a long, long way. That means it will take a long time for the ground to soften, and a longer stretch than usual of dealing with mud. There is no where for the melted snow or rain to go when the ground beneath is frozen solid, so "mud season" means wiping dog off paws every time you go back inside after being outdoors. Yesterday, while wiping off Willie's paws for the first time in months, I was reminded of how much I love the cue "Ready." I wrote about it in 2010, but thought it was worth a reprint, given how many of us will be Read More

Favorite African Photographs

lion rubs cub 09

This week I'm grading 150 term papers. Yup, a 150 of them. My Teaching Assistant, Peggy B, will also be grading aspects of these same papers, so you can imagine that the two of us will be, uh, a tad busy for awhile. That's why this week's blog is a compilation of some of my favorite photographs from trips to Africa. It has been great fun looking through my "albums" and remembering the highlights of these trips, and I'm reminded that I want to get enlargements to put on the walls at the farm house. Been meaning to do that for how many years? Here are some of my favorites: Did I really get up close and personal with a pack of African Wild Dogs in Botswana?   Did a Lilac Breasted Roller really hover just feet from us while trying to extract a beetle from the windshield of Read More

Assessing “Assess-a-Hands”


When I began working as an animal behaviorist I evaluated dogs in a number of ways, one being to give them a prized resource and watch to see how they responded when I reached for it. I remember working on a stage with a dog who was said to bite if you tried to take away his toy. After playing around with him to get him comfortable, I gave him his treasured toy and let him settle down with it. Then I squatted down beside him and began to reach toward the object with my hand. I explained to the audience that I wanted to see not so much whether he would growl or try to bite, but the expression on his face as he reacted to my outreached arm. Was his commissure forward in an offensive threat? Or backward in a fearful grimace? Over a hundred people held their breath as I reached closer and Read More

A Memorial: Fund Raising for Puppy Up!


For almost twelve years, my Great Pyrenees Tulip was the farm’s jokester, a shiny-eyed, smiley-faced cross between an oversized seal pup and a benevolent polar bear. For twelve years she multi-tasked as the farm’s protector and its own personal stand up comedian. She died in my arms several years ago, and is buried just a few feet from the front porch, where she used to stand and bark at the coyotes who yip-howled their way down a ravine toward my young lambs. No coyote, or canid of any kind, ever bothered our sheep when Tulip was alive, yet she loved everyone equally, dogs and people alike, unless they appeared to be a threat. Once I was awoken at 2 AM by hushed and hurried voices coming from my front yard. Alone that night, I peered out the window to see three shadowy figures moving Read More

Applied Ethology: Translations and Mis-Translations


Last week I posted a photo of Tootsie's face that got a lot of reactions like: "She looks so angry!" "She looks mean!" That got everyone who knows Tootsie laughing, because she is about the least "angry" dog we've ever met. But, people who don't know her were making reasonable assumptions, based on what ethologists call "sign stimuli," or sights or sounds that get automatic responses. Usually we talk about these responses in non-human animals, like the famous beetles in Australia that tried to mate with orange, bumpy beer bottles that looked and felt like the backs of female beetles. In other words, if it's orange and bumpy and you're a male beetle, it's got to be a girl beetle ready to mate. As mammals, we're not immune to this phenomenon, and I'm grateful to Tootsie for remind all of Read More