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

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

Ah Youth! The Initiation of Play in Dogs

strawberries 2013

First, watch the video of Katie's young Leo trying to get an older Mastiff, Herk, to play. (You'll know who is who, trust me!) Second, take a minute to wipe the tears from your eyes because you were laughing so hard. Third, think about all the ways you've seen dogs try to initiate play with other dogs, from a standard and obvious play bow, to Leo's method of smashing a toy into another dog's head. I find the topic of how dogs convince other dogs to play an interesting one. How do dogs go about initiating play in others that are a tad reluctant? I'm especially interested in Leo's use of a toy (tool?) to get Herk's attention. How common is it for a dog to use an object to elicit play from other dogs? Willie's favorite method of play is "Let's be race horses!" but he also loves Read More

Play Bows as Meta-Communication

snow early winter 2012

We all know the signs of imminent danger between two dogs right? Immobile stiff bodies, direct eye contact, round eyes. Except when dogs are playing and then the exact same postures and expressions are nothing but pauses between frolics. That is a perfect example of what's called meta-communication, or communication about communication. Here's a video of Willie and his new friend, Leo--the new pup of Katie Martz here at the office--illustrating meta-communication as well as any two dogs could. I look forward to your comments about it. First, some background: Yesterday they met for the first time, and it went beautifully. Katie stood 40 feet from the door with Leo as I let Willie out and asked him "Where's the Dog?" We played tug when he looked at Leo and then back at me. After 2 Read More

Willie and Tongue Flicks and What it All Means

As if any of us REALLY knows "what it all means," right? But thank you for your interesting and thoughtful comments about the previous post's video of Willie and the "Get Back" signal. They were great. I'll cut to the chase about my own interpretation. Here's the data: Willie tongue flicks when I ask him to back away from somewhere or something he wants to go toward: the outside of the house, into the car, or toward the toy. All of these have been taught using lots and lots of reinforcement with food and play and "life rewards," like going outside after I say "Get Back" or getting the toy as soon as he backs up (But  I don't reinforce every single response every single time once he has a cue down pat. That would be unnecessary in my opinion, not to mention completely impractical.) But Read More