TheOtherEndoftheLeash Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, has made a lifelong commitment to improving the relationship between people and animals. Sun, 19 Apr 2015 13:58:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Positive Reinforcement is Defined by the Receiver, Take Two Sun, 19 Apr 2015 12:04:07 +0000 I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how important it is to remember that “reinforcement” and “punishment” are defined by the receiver. I’m not sure what got me thinking about it. Perhaps it was learning about a study that found cows perceived being yelled at as distressing as being shocked with an electric prod. Or perhaps it was realizing that Willie most likely doesn’t enjoy practicing penning the sheep anymore (the most pressure-filled part of a sheepdog competition) because he doesn’t like the pressure. (Thank you friend Donna for making the suggestion.) Or maybe it was while explaining to friends that getting a free trip to anywhere right now wouldn’t be reinforcement, it would be punishment. This is not the first time I’ve broached this subject.

Here’s what I wrote in 2008 about it: If you told me I could have an all-expense paid trip to Spain or Paris two weeks from now I’d turn it down. Right now all I want to do is to be home on the farm, with Lassie, Willie, and Sushi the cat. I want to watch the sheep eat apples from our wild apple trees, and savor and process the bounty of local, organic produce from the CSA down the road. As much as I enjoyed the trip, more travel right now would be punishment, not positive reinforcement.

What a good reminder that “positive reinforcement” is always, by definition, decided by the receiver, not by the ‘giver.’ This is easy to forget, especially for novice trainers, and so it deserves discussion in any dog training class or private session. For example, the owner may feel good praising and petting their dog if he came when called away from a play session, but it might be the last thing the dog wanted at that moment. (Getting petted while cuddling on the couch is a far cry from getting pets in the middle of romping at the dog park with one’s buddies. Do you want your sweetie to rub your neck when you’re in the middle of a tennis match?) At seminars sometimes I’ll praise and pet a dog for giving up a toy, and ask the audience to grade my “reinforcement.” If I sound happy and exuberant, I’ll get straight “A’s” from the crowd. But then, I’ll ask them to watch the dog’s face and praise as pet as before. This time they’ll notice, that while I was happy-talking up a storm, the dog turned his head away from the petting (I was doing on the top of his head in that pat-pat kind of way that most dogs don’t like) and didn’t look happy at all. I may have sounded good, but I was actually punishing the dog, not reinforcing him. Food for thought.

I think this concept is important for all dog lovers to revisit on a regular basis. The fact is, it is hard to take yourself out of your own reality; we all need frequent reminders that our assumptions about what is reinforcing and and what is punishing are not always accurate. Who knew that cows would find a raised voice as aversive as an electric shock? How many dog owners try to stop a dog from jumping up on them by pushing the dog away with their hands? (And the dog responds by jumping with even more enthusiasm, because moving one’s paw toward another dog is a play signal. Thus, what the owners perceive as punishment acts as a reinforcer to the dog.) I can’t tell how often I see people attempt to reinforce their dogs with something the dog doesn’t want–whether it’s offering a dog a treat when he is too engaged at barking at the window to have any interest in food, or petting a dog on top of the head with no awareness that the dog’s response is to move away.

Although most of us know the more obvious examples of miscommunication between person and dog about what is, and is not, reinforcing or punishing (remember I am using ‘punishment’ to mean ‘anything that decrease the frequency of a response), we all profit by reminding ourselves to drop our assumptions and let the dog’s behavior tell us what is a “P” and what is an “R” to our dogs. I’d love to hear your examples of times when you realized that you and your dog were defining things differently.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm in 2015: Here’s a photo of  two lambs on the farm we visited in Georgia. They are here to remind me what lambs look like, because my ewes are so overdue I am at risk of forgetting. Perhaps they have forgotten too? In their defense, they were first exposed to the ram King Charles, who turned out to be very ill, and subsequent died soon after mating with Lady Baa Baa. That mating clearly didn’t take, because she is long overdue if it had. After the untimely death of King Charles, Little Big Man swaggered into the picture, with a lot to learn about courtship. No flowers and dinner out for him, and the ewes were not impressed. Cupcake ran away from him, and Lady Baa Baa’s mother, Lady Godiva, damn near tried to kill him for the first 4 days. I had to keep them separated, with brief dates during the day in which Lady G would lower her head and smash Little Big Man into a post. Eventually, everyone settled down. And hopefully, the girls got bred. Cross your hooves, we have usually lambed by now, or at least started, and I’m starting to pace the floor.

But I digress… I ask you: Is there anything cuter than a newborn lamb?

Lambs in GA


We do have spring flowers, lots of them. As well as perfect spring weather, nodding daffodils and Phoebee’s, Chipping Sparrows, Chickadees, Cardinals and Bluebirds chorusing in the background. It’s good to have a reminder of why we live through our ridiculously long and brutal winters!

Daffs close 4-15  Spring flowers One 4-15

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Can Fake Dogs Help Real Dogs? Mon, 13 Apr 2015 19:41:30 +0000 Can we learn anything about a dog’s behavior around unfamiliar dogs with the use of a fake, stuffed dog? That is the question asked by a team of researchers in Massachusetts, who did a study comparing the responses of 45 shelter dogs to a live dog and a fake, plush, stuffed dog. The real dogs were presented with a neutered, male American Staffordshire mix and a similarly-sized, fake dog who was the same size as the real dog but is described as “having the appearance of a pointer breed dog”. Individual behaviors were recorded as occurring or not (approach, sniff, bark, growl, back away, etc.) and were also later lumped into three categories: “aggressive, fearful or friendly/playful”.

The authors summarized the results by saying that “friendly” responses were the responses most likely to be consistent, in that most of the “friendly” dogs were friendly to both the real and the fake stimulus. However, they found little agreement between responses to real and fake dogs for what they labeled as “aggressive” behavior. In total, 17 dogs showed some form of aggressive behavior toward either the real or fake dog; 8 toward the real dog, 12 toward the fake dog, but only 3 dogs shown any kind of aggressive behavior toward both categories.

On the other hand, 32 of the 45 dogs showed fear in at least one of the conditions, 21 to both real and fake dogs,  8 of these toward the fake dog only and 3 toward only the live dog. Thus, fearful behavior was a bit more consistent than what was labeled as aggressive behavior.

I have quibbles about some of the details of the analysis (“tail wagging” was scored as “friendly, ” although their comments in the Discussion section make it clear they are aware this is not always the case), but I credit the researchers for initiating the inquiry. Note that CAAB Dr. Pam Reid has also done work in this area, although has not yet published the results. I look forward to reading them.

This is important because some shelters are using fake dogs as evaluative tools to ask if a specific dog is dog-dog aggressive. If you’ve never seen work with “fake” stimuli, this isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Just as people sometimes respond to statues, stuffed animals or cartoons as if they are real, there are many cases of dogs responding to stuffed dogs, or even large dolls filling in for children, as if they were real. One researcher in France (sorry, can’t remember the name) painted a silhouette of a dog on the wall and noted that dogs approached it appropriately as if they saw it as a dog, and were most likely to sniff its inguinal area as if it were a real dog. I have a quilted fabric with the silhouette of a cat on it, and I can’t tell you how many dogs have looked up and barked at it. Thus, there does seem to be a predisposition of visual animals to respond to what ethologists call “sign stimuli,” meaning that some stimuli are inherently meaningful to the animal who sees or hears them.

I’ve always speculated that fake dogs, being stiff and motionless by definition, are more likely to elicit fear or aggression than a live dog would. After all, real dogs usually respond to another with some kind of action, whether it is looking away, flattening its ears, or lunging forward and barking. Nothing makes me more on guard than a dog who goes stiff and motionless, so it makes sense that until a dog realizes that the stuffed one is fake, it would be more reactive than usual. Note that the fearful reactions to the fake dog were over twice as common as to the real one. (But also note that the sample was very small.)

However, many behaviorists are strongly against the use of fake dogs as predictors of dog-dog aggression in a shelter setting. I concur, at least not until we have a lot more research on whether a dog’s reaction really is predictive.  But to muddy the waters, I can’t resist adding that somewhere deep in a storage closet is a video I made of three of my dogs approaching a stuffed dog, and each was 100% consistent with the way they approached unfamiliar real dogs. (Border Collie Luke approached enthusiastically, tail up but loose and waving, Border Collie Pippy Tay groveled her way toward the dog as per usual, and Great Pyrenees Tulip strode forward, tail, head, ears up and forward, barking what we called her “Announcement Bark.” But that is just one set of observations, and we have to be careful about the predictive value of anecdotes.

There is, though, a very important use of fake dogs, which is using them to train owners how to train their own dog when out walking on a leash. I’ve used my own fake dog often to help owners learn how to respond when they and their own dog see an unfamiliar dog out in the street. We all know how context-depending learning is, and even placing a fake dog on the sidewalk creates enough of a stimulus to begin training both person and dog how to respond. In that context I have found fake dogs to be invaluable.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: How could I resist? I brought the office’s stuffed dog out to the farm to see what would happen. It turns out that Tootsie, Willie and Maggie behaved exactly (or close to it) as they do if a new dog comes to visit.

First, I let Tootsie out, and she ran toward the fake dog, body loose, and sniffed it from the front, just as she does when she greets real dogs. (She always begins her greetings that way, then moves to the inguinal area only if the other dog is paying her no attention.) She always appears  happy to meet other dogs, but then completely ignores them after a first greeting.

Tootsie Fake Dog 2105

Then I let Willie out. As usual, (now, not when he was younger), he went running toward it, tail up, no barking or growling.

Willie Fake Dog 1

As is his habit, he first went to the dog’s hindquarters and sniffed.  (A more appropriate response than Tootsie’s by the way, remember that Toots was a puppy mill dog). You can’t tell by these photos, but his tail went down in between these shots, then up again. After sniffing the dog’s hindquarters, he went around to the front, sniffed again, and then moved away and urinated.

Willie Fake Dog 2

Maggie barreled out, also as predicted, with barking full of both fear and the potential of aggression. (We’re working on it; she is much improved!) Once Maggie greets a new dog she is lovely with it; she actually has some of the best social skills of any dog I’ve ever known. However, she is nervous about new dogs, and you couldn’t miss that when she ran barking (ambivalent barks with lots of high and low notes… I attribute to both fear and being on offense.)

But watch what happens here. As Maggie charged out of the house, barking and growling, Willie begins to move toward her as if blocking her movement.


Maggie Fake Dog 1

Sure enough, that’s what he was doing. He clearly runs between her and the fake dog. She is faster than he is, and after the photo below she pivoted back toward the dog, ran up and sniffed it’s muzzle. She spent the longest time of all the dogs sniffing the model, and even barked at it after I brought her back in the house.

Maggie Fake Dog 2

Interesting stuff. I want to re-iterate that I do not think a similar test in a shelter setting is enough to predict if a dog is dog-dog aggressive, but, I do find it interesting to watch a dog’s response to a fake dog.  What about you? Does your shelter use fake dogs to evaluate dogs? Has your dog ever reacted to a model or statue as if it were alive? I can’t wait to read about your experiences; I find this topic fascinating.

OTHER FARM NEWS: No lambs. Zippo. And Lady Baa Baa was due Saturday. Please explain to her that I’d appreciate it if she’d have her lambs soon! But the flowers are finally starting to bloom! Yeah spring….

spring flowers


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Healthy Dog Play in Georgia, Sweet Georgia Mon, 06 Apr 2015 18:53:53 +0000 We’re just back from a short week with good friends Jim and Peg in northern Georgia. Heavenly! They live on a gorgeous 200 acre farm and we got to enjoy the fun of 80+ new born lambs, and none of the work, thanks to our hard working hosts. Maggie and Willie got to work sheep every day, along with numerous long walks with the seven resident Border Collies on the property. Basically, we ate (Jim A. is the best amateur chef I know), walked (two stunningly beautiful hikes and lots of dog walks) and worked dogs (Peg is one of the top handlers in the country and gave me some invaluable advice). Sounds rough, doesn’t it? Here’s a huge shout out to Peg and Jim for their gracious hospitality.

I thought you’d enjoy a sequence of dog play that I took with the camera on rapid fire “continuous shooting.” I originally inserted more photos, but then had to make them too small, so I’ve only included a few of the most interesting:

Here’s Willie in the center, playing with 14-month old (intact) Joe. (That’s young pup Henry running off happily in the foreground.) Joe thought mounting Willie was great fun, which is typical for dogs Joe’s age. When Willie mildly objected, Joe responded appropriately with a tongue flick.

GA Dogs Play 1


Immediately afterward, Joe comes up to Willie with tail down, tongue flicking again. Note Willie’s high tail and “on his toes” posture.

GA Dogs Play 3


Joe tried another mount, but this time Willie rises up too (a bit hard to see). Lots of vertical play can be a sign of potential trouble, but I had no worries here with any of these dogs. They all played beautifully the entire time we were there.

GA Dogs Play 4


This play sequence ended when an older male,  Cap, trots over. Note both the older males have high tails, but Cap’s is curled forward and Willie is now doing an appeasing tongue flick. Ah language of dogs! So much has been “said” here, right?

GA Dogs Play 8


Switching taxons (from animals to plants), here are some of the many wildflowers that were in bloom when we visited:

I believe that this is Foam Flower (Tiarella cordifolia), surrounded by Toadshade or Sessile Trillium (Trilllium sessile). Any local naturalists want to confirm for me?

Foam Flower, Toad Trillium


And here’s a flower familiar to many, White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), which will not make its appearance here in Wisconsin for another month or so.

Trillium (grandiflorum)


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Music to a Cat’s Ears Fri, 27 Mar 2015 16:00:55 +0000  sushi at windowA recently published study has shown that cats are attracted to music that was specifically designed for them. This is important work, given all the claims that are made about effect of music “designed for” dogs and cats. Although there are several interesting studies this issue, the studies have traditionally compared different types of musical genres, always with music that was written for people (“classical” versus “rock” for example). There is some music that has been specifically designed for dogs or cats, but its development was not based on an analysis of the animal’s species-specific vocalizations, nor is there robust scientific evidence that it is effective. Indeed, see my post from 2013, in which researcher Kogan found that slow-noted classical music increased the amount of time that kenneled dogs spent sleeping, while “psychoacoustically designed” music, a piano piece specifically designed to calm dogs, resulted in no significant change in behavior compared to no music at all.

Enter scientists Charles Snowdon (a primatologist who has studied animal vocalizations for decades), and musician David Teie. Previously they collaborated on what they like to call “Cotton Top Rock,” or music designed based on the little monkey’s vocalizations and auditory range. They found that, as they suspected, the 250px-Lisztaffe_-_Cottontop_Tamarin_-_Saguinus_oedipusmonkey’s behavior was affected most by music based on their own calls and hearing range. For the current study, Snowdon and Teie enlisted the help of then- undergraduate student Megan Savage, and together they asked if they could create music that was particularly attractive to cats, based on feline vocalizations. Musician Teie created the music, while Snowdon and Savage designed and carried out the research. You can read the abstract here if you’d like.

In this study, forty-seven cats were tested in their own homes. Each heard the music specifically designed for cats and music written for people (balanced for direction, order, etc.). The music for cats turned out to be about two octaves higher than the music made for people, contained “sliding frequencies” often heard in cat vocalizations but not in human music, and a pulse rate related to purring. (Indeed, when you listen to some of the music you can hear purr-like notes in it. You can listen to the music here.) The cats oriented and approached the speakers significantly more often when the “cat music” was playing, and in some cases walked over to the speakers and rubbed against as they would to a familiar friend.

The authors conclude by making the compelling argument that “auditory enrichment” (for example, in Polly fall colors 9-12shelters, vet clinics, or for cats with separation anxiety) must be appropriate for the intended species and thus be based on an analysis of the animal’s own vocalizations. In addition,  one must be aware of the acoustic features that can affect the emotional state of the listener. (Long, continuous notes slow or soothe, while quick, repeated ones end to increase motor activity, true of all or at least most mammals.) They conclude: “It is not sufficient to simply turn on a radio or play some classical music in a laboratory or shelter and assume that acoustic enrichment needs are being met.”

I was especially interested in whether listening to the music tended to calm the cats who heard it. This, after all is what most shelters and owners of anxious cats need. The research scored the initial responses to the music in two categories APPROACH/ORIENT: Look toward, move toward the speaker, rub against the speaker, sniff the speaker and/or purr. AVOIDANT/FEARFUL behaviors included moving away, leaving the room, piloerection, growling, hissing or arching the back. There was no difference in the number of “negative” responses to human or cat music, but a large different in “positive behaviors.” If sleeping when the cats heard the cat music, they woke up. If active, they became calm.

Those findings are replicated in testimonials that have come in from people who have purchased the music from Dr. Teie’s website. Here are two:

I came across an article about the music you created specifically for
cats, which also featured an audio sample. I played this to our formerly
stray cat, who still after living with us for months is too afraid of
being petted. Upon listening to the music she seemed very relaxed all of
a sudden and was gently pawing at the phone, it was very touching to see. KL

My boys were yowling and carousing the other night, and i happened to come upon your sound file. Quieted them right down, and they ended up side by side on the couch! D

I talked to Dr. Snowdon about this study last week (Full disclosure: He is a friend and colleague, and was integral to my own PhD research), and he described to me, testimonials aside,  how important it was to him to keep a “wall” between any commercial applications of the cat music and the research itself. Snowdon & Savage have no connection to any commercial use of the music, and Teie had no input on the study design or analysis of results. Here! Here! to them all for keeping those things separate.

Another interesting result of this research is the response of some in the media about it. (Can you hear me pulling the hair out of my head?)  One reporter said “In what is surely the worst use of science in history, a Wisconsin psychologist has a mission to make mew-sic for cats.” Tempted as I am to say “In what is surely the worst use of a pun in journalistic history…”, but I’ll leave it that the speaker clearly had done little but read a headline and jumped on it like a cat on a laser pointer. My local paper covered the research, and later published a column deriding the University’s foolishness in releasing news about the study when the university is itself under fire from our governor and legislature. Ah, but if I was to criticize someone, it would be the media, for spluttering over the headline and not noticing that 1) the research was done by an Megan Savage, at the time an undergraduate who was getting credit for learning how to do research (knowledge that no doubt helped her get into a PhD program in clinical medicine, 2) the research was funded by a small $1,000 grant from a private organization, and thus no tax payer dollars were used, and 3) this results ARE important, in that it is important to find inexpensive and practical ways to soothe cats in shelters, in veterinary clinics and in homes in which they are stressed for any other reason.

Thus, my request to you all: Hold journalists accountable when they attack something without understanding what it is about. Science seems to be under attack at the moment in the United States, which is not good for anyone of us. We all need to stand up and push back when the media leaps onto something without doing any, uh, actual journalism about the issue.

For me, I’ll be playing it to Nellie and Polly myself out of pure curiosity; I would love to hear about your cat’s reactions if you have a cat at home.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: We have a new flock of sheep. At least, it looks that way. They were shorn a few days ago in preparation for lambing (coming up in a few weeks! oh boy!), and not only do they look different to us, but because much of their scent is in their wool, they smell different to one another. I’ve learned to counter that by dousing them with cheap perfume, which cuts down on the aggression I used to see between them right after shearing. I find it fascinating that they don’t recognize each other once they are shorn. Fascinating too is a barn that smells like a whorehouse. I consider it a highlight of spring.

Here is part of the flock, gathered together not to keep warm (although it got below 12 degrees last night, poor things–they got lots of extra food to provide calories), but to stay away from my scary, big-eyed camera. By the way, the ewe on the front right, Chili, is 100% Katahdin and is a hair sheep. No need to shear her, she’ll shed like a dog all spring.

sheep scrum

And now you know why Spot is named Spot. It’s never clear except right after she has been shorn. And then it is. Ba boom.

spot's spot

]]> 6 All About Dog Poop Mon, 23 Mar 2015 20:14:49 +0000 Because it isn’t necessarily a fun topic, I thought I’d start off with my favorite story about dog poop. Imagine being at a sit-down lunch at two-day seminar I was giving on canine behavior and training. Picture a large room, with 150 people or so, sitting at round tables covered in white table cloths, the food delivered by hotel conference staff. You know the drill. We had finished a good lunch and looked with happy anticipation to what was promised to be a special dessert. Imagine our surprise when we each received a small plate with a perfect replica of dog poop on it. The cook thought it would be just too wonderful to feed us chocolate pudding in the shape of a brown, coiled snake of dog poop. It was impressively realistic. Apparently the chef was shocked that every plate was returned, uneaten. It is perhaps my favorite example of “what were they thinking?” By any chance, were you there? I’d love to hear from you if you were. I don’t remember where it was. Canada? Where ever it happened, it was memorable.

I can’t resist adding that, at the least, we could have gotten a plate of healthy poop, which should have looked like a Tootsie roll, instead of slightly-formed pudding. If by chance you’d like to learn more about healthy poop, check out this brilliant blog on what your cat’s poop is telling you. (Thanks to Julie Hecht for sending it!) The blog is about cats, but it is equally relevant to dogs. Just don’t decide to serve something that looks like it to company. But, on to more important issues:

I was initially inspired to write about dog poop after receiving a question from a friend, whose dog MeMe (photo on the left)  took great pains to scramble up a mound of snow to defecate on top of it. That meant that friend Debbie had to scramble up herself, poop bag in hand, to clean it up. But why was MeMe expending so much energy climbing up a small mountain just to move her bowels? My guess is as good as yours, but I suspect it had to do with scent dispersal. The higher a scent is placed, the better the chance the air flow will disperse it. This is believed to be the reason that male dogs lift their legs, in order to deposit scent as high as possible; not so much to “appear bigger” but to allow the scent to be better dispersed. If you’d like to delve into this topic in more depth, check out a great blog by Koryos on scent marking in dogs, which ends with a good list of studies on scent marking in canids.

TEACHING DOGS TO GO IN ONE SPOT: Speaking of location, for some reason my dogs have been eliminating exclusively in my flower gardens. Not so great healthy when I’ll be spending lots of time digging in the dirt. The only exception to their flower garden preference is the lawn in front of our front door. I didn’t worry about the lawn over the winter, because usually it is covered in snow and the moisture acts to dilute the urine. Not this winter, however, because we have had so little snow, so I now have a front lawn that is more yellow grass than green. I’m not an obsessive lawn caretaker, but I’d still rather not have a polka dot lawn. Here’s what I’ll be doing, which is taking the same advice I have given hundreds of clients about how to teach your dog to pee and poop where you want:

Go outside with a hand full of treats and call your dog to your designated bathroom area. If your dog stares at you (as in “Give me the treat”), just look up and away and walk around the area slowly. Eventually your dog will give up and start to sniff. Continue strolling around slowly until Ginger or Rusty squats or lifts a leg, and give a treat immediately afterward. (Yes, you have to go outside with your dog and go yourself to the area you want your dog to use. Sorry… no standing by the backdoor in your bathrobe.) Continue treating your dog in the preferred area and eventually almost all dogs, by force of habit, will use that area, at least if you go outside with them. (This is why we have slip on boots by the door, and very warm, comfy bathrobes…)

A few caveats however: Most dogs have a preferred type of bathroom. Willie used to prefer bushy or grassy areas, although now that he is older he is more likely to poop in the middle of a trail. (I’ve noticed this pattern with several other dogs, that as they age they are less likely to eliminate away from the traffic pattern. Have you had the same experience?) Other dogs like the wide open spaces–so be thoughtful about what your dog is telling you regarding his or her choice for a bathroom. Also, be aware that dogs identify bathrooms by smell. We identify them by sight… we look for the sign that says “Restroom,” look for the stall, the round white thing, etc.) Dog are looking for the smell of urine or feces, so if you are trying to train your dog to use a new area, you might want to import some grass or soil (or feces) into that area. I’ve suggested that to many a client, and found that it has been helpful in transitioning a dog from the rose garden by the house to the brush at the far side of the garden.

Here, by the way, is a good post from the ASPCA about helping shelter dogs learn or continue good elimination habits while in shelters. Given how many dogs are returned because of house training issues, this is important stuff.

SPRING CLEANING and POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT: Poop had been on my mind in another way when I got Debbie’s query, because it is spring here in the northern climes. Everyone who lives in snow country knows what that means. Dog poop. Lots of it. Everywhere. No matter how much we clean up after our dogs, the reality of life in winter dictates that warm poop melts into snow, and disappears from view in an instant. That means that “spring cleaning” for dog lovers involves a very big bucket and some serious work with a poop scooper. Not a fun job, but someone’s got to do it, right?poop scooper

That reminds me of the importance of using positive reinforcement when dealing with the “gifts” left by dogs in public places. Understandably, people can get upset, even other dog owners, about feces left behind by owners who don’t pick up after their dogs. I well remember a time year ago that a pack of outraged dog owners started a brouhaha about how much feces needed cleaning up in spring in a public dog park. A spring clean up was organized, but the attitude was one of “how could other people be so irresponsible to not clean up after their dogs?” Well, first, as I mentioned, poop is warm and snow is cold, and it takes about a microsecond for the product of your dog’s elimination to disappear from sight. Second, the fact is that *^#! happens and sometimes owners are distracted and don’t notice that their dog has pooped, and others, well, don’t care.

However, rather than expend negative energy on “Ain’t it awful!” (my least favorite conversation abut just about anything), I organized a competition to make poop a high-value resource. Whoever brought in the heaviest bucket during the spring dog park clean up got a prize. A good one. All of a sudden people were racing around saying “Oh look! There’s one!” as if they had found an Easter egg. The next year I told Ian Dunbar about it at an APDT conference, where I was hearing the same “Oh, people are SO AWFUL” energy, and he announced a similar competition. It worked like a charm. Keep that in mind if you live in an area where there have been complaints about dog feces in public areas. Funny how positive reinforcement works on people as well as it does on dogs.

275px-Betty-boop-opening-titleEnough about poop, although I have to admit I could go on and on. For example, I was going to title this post “Poop Poop Pe Doo,” but discovered that 1) many others have used that same phrase when writing about dogs and poo, and 2) some of these posts lead to places that, well, we’d all rather not go. But I did find a great Wiki site on Betty Boop, who coined the phrase. You just never know where curiosity is going to take you, do you?

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: No poop pick up today, we got 4 or 5 inches of snow last night. It will melt soon and that will mean more mud, but I’m glad to see it. It’s been a dry winter and spring so far, and we need the moisture. Here’s the snow decorating the cedar tree beside the house.

snow on cedars

Tootsie did her Pet Pals shift this weekend at the American Family Children’s Hospital. I wish I could include a photo of the little girl who had Tootsie in her lap, with her head bowed down so that her body was curled around Tootsie. When the shift was over and it was time to leave I could barely get her to let go. It’s bitter sweet indeed to see how needy these children are, and how much having a dog to pet can mean to them. We’re not allowed to take photos in the hospital, but here is Tootsie getting her obligatory bath before her visit. I trained her to stand in the sink with her paws on the divider between the sinks, which she’ll do now without any assist from me so that I can have both hands for bathing her. You can see she’s just gotten a treat. Whee, baths are sort of fun, aren’t they!

Tootsie small bath

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Fish Falling From the Sky Tue, 17 Mar 2015 00:31:46 +0000 [I had planned to write a blog on poop (stay tuned, who could resist the topic?), but am a tad under the weather, so I’m just going to post this for your amusement…

You’ve heard of fish falling from the sky, yes? Apparently it is more common that one might predict. A quick internet search found multiple references to such events, many of them quite credible. They can even fall by the hundreds, as experienced by the residents of a small town in Australia. But I’ve never known anyone who could beat the story of my veterinarian, Dr. John Dally, who lives on the Wisconsin River, and below the flight path of a Bald Eagle flying between her nest to her fishing grounds on a daily basis. Imagine John’s surprise when he went outside early in the morning to pick up a dish pan, and a fish fell out of the sky into the pan he was carrying. Plop. Apparently he had whistled for his dog when he picked up the pan, and it startled an eagle sitting above him into dropping the fish. The fish hit the gutter of the house, bounced onto John’s forehead and into the pan. Apparently John isn’t the only one who has had a fish fall on his head.

Here’s Dr. John, just moments after his most successful fishing trip and after he told his wife what had happened:

john & fish


MEANWHILE, back on the farm: A lovely weekend, including a long dog walk with friends and a fun open house/pot luck at Dr. John’s while he and his wife Anne (both vets bless them) boiled maple sap to make their own maple syrup. Here’s the sap boiling away:

sap boiling


And here are the resident goats. Yup, they really do eat everything, including paper plates with yummy pie filling on them. (Don’t worry, the plate consumption was carefully monitored. Apparently there is such a thing as “too many paper plates,” even if one is a goat.) But hey, I do make good pie. :-)

dally goats

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Fund Raising 2015: Love Song to Lassie Tue, 10 Mar 2015 01:17:41 +0000 French Vanilla. Ice Cream. Summer Day.
Those were the six words I wrote for my Lassie girl, the day she died. That was a little over five years ago, and I still miss her more than I can say. She was pure and simply the sweetest dog I have ever had.
Lassie Best photoShe was Cool Hand Luke’s daughter, and a dog I never expected to have. I had turned down a puppy in return for Luke’s stud service, having more than enough dogs at the time.  Lassie’s breeder brought the litter to Black Earth so that Luke’s many admirers could pick out the puppies they had reserved. “I know you don’t want one, but if you did, which one would you take?” I was asked. “This one,” I said after spending the day with all the puppies, enamored of a small female with a raccoon black patch around her left eye.

A year later, that same dog arrived at the farm at 11 o’clock at night. The home she was in hadn’t worked out; the breeder asked if I would take care of her a few days until a good home was found. I said yes. My husband, Patrick, had just informed me that he was leaving me after 17 years together, and in a moment of stunned grief and desperation, I latched onto Lassie as if she was a lift boat.

She came late in the evening, and all that night I kept my hand resting on her soft, creamy fur. As the dim light of dawn began to creep into the room she and I got up together. I let her out of the house to run up the hill behind the other dogs, knowing she’d follow them into the fenced yard. I don’t know why I called her name as she galloped away–what is the chance she’d listen when I had just gotten her? But as I called she spun around in mid-air and ran back to me, sliding to a stop like a quarter horse at my feet. That afternoon I introduced her to sheep. She did a perfect outrun around to the back of the flock, slowly walked them up to me and lay down, as if she’d had months of training. I called the breeder as soon as I got back to the house. “We’ve found Lassie a home, if you’ll let me keep her.” By the end of the first day we were together, she fell in love with her father Luke, and I fell in love with her.

She died of liver cancer fifteen years later. Ex-husband Patrick and I are now both happily married to other people, and are good friends. He lives just a few miles away, with Lassie’s daughter, the sweet and beautiful Tess. Like her mother, she passed away at the age of sixteen. But it was still too soon. It is almost always too soon, isn’t it?

That is why I am writing this now, because we have a chance to support research that will help many of our dogs live a little longer. I would be grateful, more grateful than I can say, if  you wwould join me in raising  money for one of my favorite causes, the Puppy Up Foundation. It funds research on cancers that affect both people and dogs in hopes that combining expertise and both human and animal medicine will lead to faster cures. Last year the Madison contingent alone (it was then called the 2 Million Dogs campaign), raised a whopping total of $86,000, a national record. Wow. Already some of those funds are supporting research at Princeton University on mammary tumors in people and dogs.

This year the goal for the Madison walk is $100,000 and how sweet that would be if we made it! Jim and I walked as part of the Pet Pals team and I’m blushingly proud to say that because of your support, I was the individual top fund raiser in the city. I’ll go for the same goal for all of us for this year, and am hoping that together, we can again raise over $3,000. If you’re in the Madison area, come join us on the walk on May 3rd.  It is a hoot and a half. But here’s where you add your own donation if you can. Either way, we’d all love to read any memorial you’d like to add about your own special dog. Oh how I wish that they lived longer…

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Sunny, and most importantly, temperatures well above freezing! Actually in the 40’s. Whooo Hooo! Yesterday I felt hot outside with just my spring jacket on. For those of you who don’t live in the frozen north, know that the concept of “hot” has been an unfamiliar one around these parts. And there’s more: Mud! Never have brown and muddy paws looked so good.

Now we hear there’s even warmer weather coming this week. Temps in the high 50’s? I can’t even imagine. Bring out the swimsuits. (Well, maybe not. Let’s just say that brutally cold weather does not facilitate successful weight loss.) It’s still icy and snowy in spots, and we’ll get lots of cold and snow to come in the next six weeks, but we are loving it now. Hard to imagine that there will be bulbs coming up in a month. And lambs! Lady Godiva, Lady Baa Baa, Pepper and Cupcake (also known as “Honey Boo Boo Ewe” — another unsuccessful weight loss program) are scheduled to lamb in mid-April. I have to go to Washington DC for a speech in mid-April, hope Jim doesn’t end up being the one doing all the lambing work. Cross your hooves for us…

Sunday morning 4 BCs and 3 people took a glorious early spring walk on a trail a few miles from the farm. Here are friend Donna, Jim and some of the BC’s tromping up a steep hill and enjoying the warm weather.

Ice Age Trail 3-15


And here’s Maggie girl practicing her driving Sunday afternoon under the blue sky and cotton clouds. Luke’s headstone is on the left; it says “That’ll Do, Luke, That’ll Do.” Lassie is buried to his right, beside him. I always envision that their spirits are still there, watching over us all from their favorite place on the farm. Rest in peace my friends, I still love you both more than I can say.

M drives early spring


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When Is It Time to Put Down a Dog Who is Aggressive to People? Tue, 03 Mar 2015 01:51:28 +0000 If there is anything harder than euthanizing a beloved dog for serious behavioral problems, I don’t know what it is. And yet, sometimes, that is an option that dog owners have to consider. These were some of the hardest cases I worked with when I was seeing clients full time. I would drive home, sick at heart, and wonder why the hell I hadn’t found an easier way to make a living. Often I’d run into people who would say “Oh! What a wonderful job you have!”, no doubt envisioning me spending my days running through fields of daisies with Golden Retriever puppies.

aggressivedogAs hard as it is to talk to clients about whether to put down an aggressive dog, it is nothing compared to what the owners are going through. Euthanizing a physically healthy dog, one who is joyful and loving part of the time, is surely the hardest thing a dog lover has to face. My intention here is to help people considering the option of whether to put down a dog who is seriously aggressive, in hopes that I can provide some guidance. I’ll get the conversation started, but I greatly value the input of you as a reader, if you have any to share. Let me start by asking that we agree on a definition of “canine aggression.” For the sake of our discussion, let’s define aggression as an action in which a person is either injured or at clear risk of being injured by a dog. We all know that a great deal of what is labeled as “aggression” is defensive behavior, but for the sake of our discussion, let’s focus on consequences, and not what we think is the dog’s intent.

First and Foremost: It is No One’s Decision But Your Own: This is both a blessing and a curse. Clients often asked me “What would you do if it was your dog?” I can never answer that question, because I’m not the one who will have to lie in bed at night thinking about what has happened. What I can do is start by sympathizing, and saying that I am so, so sorry that anyone is in the position of having to consider putting down a physically healthy dog because of a serious behavioral problem. It is exhausting, heartbreaking and terrifying. When I talk to people in this situation I emphasize how important it is to be kind and compassionate toward themselves, as if they were facing a serious illness. Their brain thinks they are. I ask them to surround themselves with good friends who are truly supportive, and to shake off any harsh judgements or unhelpful advice as best they can.

Usually conversations about serious behavioral problems include three primary options for dealing with all serious behavioral problems: 1) Keep the dog and work with a trainer or behaviorist to mitigate or manage the problem, 2) re-home the dog if it can be done safely and responsibly, and 3) euthanize the dog. Needless to say, option three should only be considered if options one and two are not viable. But how do you consider if they are or are not? Here are criteria that I suggest everyone consider:

1. Risk Assessment: No one begins a conversation about whether their dog should be put down for aggressive behavior if there haven’t been several incidents (or one horrifically serious one). And every dog owner has to know that if “it,” the aggression, happened once, it might happen again. That is true even if the dog is carefully managed and the owners work hard on a treatment plan. The question is, what is “it”? What are the consequences if “it” happens again? I was once called by a public health employee about a case in which a dog had damaged someone’s face so badly it required 400+ stitches to repair. The dog had then been given away to someone else, and ended up mutilating a child’s face, arm and shoulder. Would it be possible, I was asked, to work with the dog and make it safe? Yes, perhaps… anything is possible. But there is always a risk that it might happen again, and in this case, “it” was a horrific injury to an innocent person. Who would be willing to risk that kind of damage to another person. Of course, a seriously dangerous dog could live in a cage with extremely limited social contact, but that brings up the issue of quality of life (which I’ll discuss later on in this piece).

On the other hand, if “it” happening again means that your dog has growled at someone, then you might be in a very different conversation. Growls and snaps to people aren’t acceptable either, but just because a dog growls at the delivery man when she’s ten months old doesn’t mean she is going to be a dangerous dog. There are lots of dogs who can be turned around, or at least managed, as long as the owners acknowledge that the behavior needs addressing, and can find good advice about how to do so.

Thus, anyone in a conversation about euthanizing an “aggressive” dog has got to ask themselves two risk-related questions: First, if the injury was to another person, what risk does your dog pose to others? How would you feel if your dog put someone in the hospital? Second, what are the consequences to you?  What is your legal risk if there is another incident? Are you willing to lose your home owner’s insurance? Defend yourself in a lawsuit? If the bite was to you, can you spend a year healing your hand from a bad bite that keeps you from writing, or playing the violin as a musician? In addition, and essentially, everyone has a different tolerance for risk. Can you live in health knowing that your dog might badly injure someone if you forget to lock a door? Some people are fine with a background level of risk, and in addition have little trouble following a rigid routine to keep things safe. Others aren’t. Owners have to ask themselves which category they fall into.

 2. Do you have the resources required to a) manage the dog so that everyone stays safe, and b) work on a treatment plan? Loving a dog is not the same as having the knowledge or logistical ability to treat a serious behavioral problem. Love, I’m afraid, is not always “all you need.” I have seen innumerable clients who loved their dog, but who simply didn’t have the emotional or logistical ability to manage and treat a serious aggression problem. As much as I want to help save as many dogs as I can (my training business was named “Dog’s Best Friend” after all), I feel tremendous empathy for people who, through no fault of their own, simply can’t cope anymore. Perhaps they have been living in fear of their dog for years and are emotionally exhausted. I saw hundreds of people in that category: women who were terrified that their dog would turn on them with no warning, as it had in the past; men who lived in fear that their dog would bite another neighbor and the lawsuit would destroy a lifetime of hard work. It is easy for some to dismiss such people, and argue that they themselves would never give up on a dog, no matter what the dog had done. But be careful of making judgments here: I have seen people whose lives were almost destroyed because of an aggressive dog. People who hadn’t had company for over a decade and whose marriages were on the rocks (or over) because of it. A woman whose dog stalked her through the house and held her hostage in the upstairs bedroom at midnight while I and a colleague drove up outside to capture the dog and save her. One of my clients stitched up a long, serious bite wound in fear that getting medical care would force her to consider not keeping her dog.

3.  Can the dog be re-homed? Aggression is often context specific, and if it is triggered by predictable, and manageable stimuli, then the dog might indeed be able to be re-homed. Perhaps the dog is only dangerous around children, and the current owner has three young ones. A home might be found that doesn’t include children. BUT… and this is crucial: Just because the new owners don’t have young children doesn’t mean the dog won’t be exposed to them. What about neighborhood walks? What about visiting grandchildren? This scenario can work, I’ve seen it work many a time, but the new owners absolutely have to be clear that no, just because the dog seems so sweet to them doesn’t mean it will be equally sweet to children. The new owners must understand that the dog has to learn to go into a crate, in a closed room, if kids come to visit. Perhaps the dog only goes outside into the backyard instead of being leash-walked in a neighborhood with children. All these details depend on the facts of the case, but what never varies is that responsible re-homing is dependent upon the risk assessment discussed above, and an objective, clear-eyed evaluation of what is required to keep people safe around the dog.

Free to a good home in the country? Oh, how often I have heard that. Yes, it is true that some dogs do much better outside of a neighborhood or city environment. I have had numerous cases of dogs who thrived in a different setting than the one in which the aggression occurred. However,  you must keep this in mind: People who live in the country are not hermits. We have visitors of all age, shapes and sizes. We have delivery men who pull up in noisy trucks and leave as soon as the dog barks, often more than city dwellers. We have hay delivered, the LP tank filled, and the meter read. We have feral cats and wanderings dogs who show up when you least expect them and have no time to cope. Thus, yes, there are some cases in which dogs can be safe and happy in a rural setting instead of an urban or suburban one. But it is not a panacea, and the details of the case are crucial to making it work, or not.

Is there another home out there? This can be the heart breaker. Just because it is possible for a dog to be rehabilitated in a specific type of environment doesn’t mean that it is available. How many people can cope with a dog who has a history of serious aggression to people? How many prospective owners have the skills and a life that makes it possible for them to do so? Finances must also be considered. Any aggressive dog should have extensive veterinary work to ensure that illness or pain isn’t causing the behavior. In addition, working with a trainer or behaviorist can be expensive. There are indeed people who are able and qualified to take on a dangerous dog–some of whom read this blog, bless them. I have taken on a few dogs in my own home myself. But there simply aren’t enough people out there who are willing and able to take on an aggressive dog, and the number of dogs who need a new home far, far out number the homes available to them.

4. Quality of life for the dog. What about the dog? I’ve worked with dogs so fearful of ___  (fill in the blanks) that they were clearly suffering for much of their life. What of the dog whose only joy in life is going to the dog park, but is dangerous around any and all strangers? What of the dogs who have unpredictable aggressive episodes that may or may not be reflective of some kind of untreatable electrical storm in their brain? The question about quality of life for dogs with serious behavioral problems is just as important as it is for dogs with physical problems. (See here for a great blog about when to put down a sick or old dog.) This is another question that only the owners can answer, but in this case it is important to get an objective opinion. I’d advise someone who comes into your home and observes the dog there. Behavior at home isn’t always obvious when a dog is outside of the house, so try to have your friends or a behaviorist, veterinarian or trainer help you here.

I want to circle back to where I started: Yes, of course, there are people who have dogs euthanized with less thought and consideration than we would like. But there are many loving, responsible dog owners who have had to face this soul-scorching decision who have agonized over it. They deserve our sympathy. No one makes this more clear than my friend and colleague Phyllis D, who wrote about the difficult decision to put her dog down because of its aggressive behavior. She still gets comments about it, as do I in a post I wrote titled Love, Guilt and Putting a Dog Down. If you have anything to add that you think might help someone in this position, I’d be grateful if you added in your comment. If you are or have had to face this decision, I am so sorry. Know that no matter how smart and hard-working and dedicated and dog-loving and responsible we humans are, we can’t always fix everything. A tough thing for us all to accept. While you try to do so, take care of yourself.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: A much happier place than the conversation above! We are beyond sick of winter here, but take our joys when we can. This weekend Willie and Maggie got to play with Max, a new friend to Maggie and an old one to Willie, although we lost touch for a few years with the owners. Max is a six-year old Border Collie who is equally squishy and sweet to people and dogs alike. He loves to play “race horse,” Willie and Maggie’s favorite game, and we got to watch the three dogs run and run and run in huge, yard-gulping circles around the fields.

run w max 1Willie and Max also love to play in a way that Maggie doesn’t: Both of the boys think it is great fun to lunge toward the other to stop their forward progress. “Ha! Smashed you in the face! Isn’t that fun?” I consider it a highly inappropriate play behavior from Willie, and was interested when Max did it back to him.

run w max 2

Hmmm, I thought, how will Willie feel about being on the receiving end? I watched it happen with a bit of concern, but Willie appeared to be thrilled that yet another dog knew how to play the best game ever! Maggie response was along the lines of: “Well, if you’re going to play like that I’ll just stay over here.” Thus, all three dogs run and run and run, but you can see from the photos that Willie and Max are the primary play partners, and Maggie is the third dog out. Exactly as she wants it!

I had hoped to get some photos of the wild turkeys that have been all over the fields lately, no doubt coming out of the woods in search of new food sources. But of course, when I had my camera the turkeys were no where to be seen, but when I went in search of them I ran across a huge group of Canada Geese settled on a field. Lovely animals (although pests in some contexts).

Can you see from these photos how very black, white and brown our world is right now? And why we are all so starved for color? Will we see tiny green shoots in a month or so? Oh, how beautiful that will be. It’s hard to imagine how sweet a quarter inch of green can be until you’ve lived through five months of black and white.

Canada Geese 3-15

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Winter Through the Lens Mon, 23 Feb 2015 20:21:20 +0000 Just a few photos today. I’ve recently returned from San Antonio, celebrating my amazing sister Dr. Wendy Barker, at the Festschrift put on in her honor by her colleagues at the University of Texas, San Antonio. She is the real writer in the family, and I wish that each of you could have been there to listen to her read some of her poems. I don’t think anyone moved the entire time that she was reading her poems; the entire room was enthralled. Engrossed. Captivated. It was a highlight of my life to listen to her colleagues and students acknowledge her contributions to creative writing. Her book, Nothing Between Us: The Berkley Years, is beyond brilliant. Yes, I know, she’s my sister, but seriously, she’s really, really good. And how fun is this: My other sister, Liza, is writing her own memoir right now. My new book (also a memoir) is with my agent, and going out for review to some other readers before we put it out to the publishing world. (Please cross all paws for me.) I wish our father, who loved books and writing, could see his three daughters now.

Here’s from a walk that Willie, Maggie and Nellie and I just took. We are just thawing out; it’s all of 8 degrees right now–a far sight warmer than the 15 degrees below zero of this morning.

N W run down hill full 2-15

N W run down hill 2-15

nellie snow 2

nellie back leg snow

Stay warm!

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How Do Dogs Interpret Human Facial Expressions? Mon, 16 Feb 2015 21:04:31 +0000 What ever is a dog to make of a human smile? Or a frown for that matter? On the one hand, it seems to me to be trivial for a dog to distinguish between obviously different expressions on the face of a human. Dogs, after all, are highly visual and the preponderence of their social communication is based on visual signals. But here’s the question I’ve always wondered about: What signals from our faces are salient to dogs?

T W Smile smallMy experience has suggested that dogs are exceptionally good at noticing (and interpreting) the following, whether done by a person or another dog: a still body versus a relaxed one, a hard, direct stare versus a soft or indirect gaze, and a loose, relaxed, open-mouth face versus one that has a tightly closed mouth. These are, obviously, signals that appear to be highly salient in canine communication, and my impression is that they transfer from one species to another. However, what of the signals that we humans consciously focus on, like smiles and frowns? Do dogs pay as much attention to them as we do? If so, what aspects of those expressions are salient? Members of both species may be aware of the difference between a look of mild irritation versus extreme anger, but we might be cuing on different things. Could we be focusing on the position of one’s eyebrows while dogs are primarily focused on the stiffness of the head and neck?

We know that people all over the world both express emotions on their faces in similar ways and also interpret them in the same way, no matter what their culture, native country or language group. (See the work of Paul Ekman, who has done over 30 years of research on the universality of human facial expressions, and helped me with my book For the Love of the Dog when I was writing about that issue.)

But we don’t know that much yet about how dogs interpret them. I’ve thought about this issue for years, (see my blog of 2010 on a related study) and so was especially interested in a study making the rounds late last week in Current Biology. Titled “Dogs Can Discriminate Emotional Expressions of Human Faces,” the study by Müller et. al. asked not just if the dogs could discriminate between “happy” faces and “angry” faces, but also if they could generalize what they’d seen from one part of the face to the other.

 Here’s a summary of their study, taken from the study’s abstract:

“After learning to discriminate between happy and angry human faces in 15 picture pairs, whereby for one group only the upper halves of the faces were shown and for the other group only the lower halves of the faces were shown, dogs were tested with four types of probe trials: (1) the same half of the faces as in the training but of novel faces, (2) the other half of the faces used in training, (3) the other half of novel faces, and (4) the left half of the faces used in training. We found that dogs for which the happy faces were rewarded learned the discrimination more quickly than dogs for which the angry faces were rewarded. This would be predicted if the dogs recognized an angry face as an aversive stimulus. Furthermore, the dogs performed significantly above chance level in all four probe conditions and thus transferred the training contingency to novel stimuli that shared with the training set only the emotional expression as a distinguishing feature. We conclude that the dogs used their memories of real emotional human faces to accomplish the discrimination task.”

There’s lots of interesting information here, which makes the study far more interesting than one that just shows dogs can tell the difference between an angry face and a happy face.  Note that the dogs were initially only shown the lower or upper half of the face (from photos on a computer screen) and could 1) generalize its visual features to the face of another person and 2) could generalize from the upper half of the face to the lower half. This is especially important, because it implies that dogs were learning more than a simple visual cue, and matching the emotion expressed by the bottom half of the face (with a big smile for example) to the upper half of the face, with open eyes and relaxed eyebrows. Especially interesting was the result that dogs learned the discrimination more quickly if they were rewarded for cuing on the “happy” face. We have to be careful about interpreting that result, but the author’s suggestion that the dogs recognized the angry faces as aversive is reasonable.

The author’s conclude by asking whether the dog’s abilities shown in the study were based on the dog’s experience as individuals, on selection pressures over time to select for dogs able to better interpret the expressions of humans, whether this ability is simply hard wired into many species of mammals and dogs happen to be one of them. (I would add that all three could potentially  be occurring simultaneously.) I’m happy to say that the last few years have seen a flurry of studies related to visual communication between people and dogs. The research ranges from a study in Argentina by Jakovcevic et. al. that looked at whether breed affected how long dogs would look at their owner’s face without reinforcement (Retrievers did longer than Poodles or German shepherds), to one by Turcsán and colleagues at the Miklosi lab in Hungary, which found that if an owner had a happy expression while handling an object their dog was more likely to retrieve it.

Food for thought, yes? I anticipate that some will read this about this study and think “Well, what a waste of money! Of course we know that!” But actually, we don’t. I’d argue that this is exactly the kind of study we need to do, examining what we think might be true with what really is true. So kudos to Müller et. al. for doing this well-designed study. Can you see me smiling?

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Brrrrrr. It’s really, really cold out here. (May I mention, however, that I’m grateful we haven’t had 6 feet of snow in a few weeks like New England? I’d love to hear from any of you slammed by snow. How are you doing?!) Saturday’s high here in Wisconsin was about 6 Farenheit at the farm, but the problem was the wind. It was strong enough that you just couldn’t stay warm, no matter how bundled up you were. At least, I couldn’t, so much of the day was spent inside. All the dogs are learning new tricks, including “Find and nose-touch a white square any where in the room” (Willie), “Roll over” (Maggie), “Spin on a verbal cue only” (Tootsie). Nothing especially creative, but still fun. I’d say after a few sessions that the only thing warm on the farm was the clicker, which always sees a lot of use from me when it’s crazy cold outside.

No wind today, so even though it’s cold you just need the right clothes to be comfortable outside. (You know that saying? There’s no bad weather, just bad clothes? I’m in agreement, except when it’s windy.) The BCs and I took a nice long walk in the woods just now, me armed with my camera and the lesson from my Contemplative  Photography class to see the world in a new way. Here’s what I came up with:

bark 2-2015

Oak leaves 2-2015

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