Who Are We to Dogs?

This is an authentic question: ie, I don't have the answer. But it's a great question, posed by a seminar attendee, and also by someone who reads the blog. Do dogs think we are mutant dogs? Pathetic replicates who never grow out of our flat, puppy faces (we never grow muzzles) and can't use our mouths but make up for it endearingly with our cute, floppy paws? And surely they believe we can't smell--at all. My guy Jim speculated that just as people often assume that animals can't [fill-in-the-blanks: think in abstractions or strategize or be conscious) because they can't do it with the depth of skill that we do, perhaps dogs assume we can't smell anything at all, because we are so horrifically bad at it. On the one hand, you could argue that dogs behave toward us as they do other dogs: Read More

Muzzle Punches, Air Snaps and Tooth Clatters Revisited

What a great conversation we've had about these behaviors in dogs. I originally posted on this topic on October 10th, and the comments in response have been fascinating. For those of you who'd rather not read through them, I'll summarize them here, and add some information I've found elsewhere. First of all, I did look at some of the wolf literature (still waiting to hear from folks who work with wolves), and I did find that Zimen, an internationally respected wolf ethologist, discusses 2 of these behaviors in his wolf sociogram in Wolves of the World. I'll add his comments in the relevant section. MUZZLES PUNCHES/POKES: As best I could, I categorized your responses about the context of muzzle punches into 4 categories: Excited/Playful, Attention Getting, Warnings with potential Read More

Oxytocin Increases When Your Dog Looks at You

A friend and colleague (Toni Ziegler, an internationally known primatologist) sent me an article in a journal I usually never see, Hormones and Behavior, and I was sure you'd be as interested in it as I am. The authors, M. Nagasawa et. al., found a correlation between the level of an owner's oxytocin and how much their dog tended to gaze directly at them. First off, you probably know that oxytocin is the "feel good" hormone that is associated with lactation and social bonding. Someone called it the "wine and candle light" hormone, because it seems to play an important role in social relationships and feelings of trust and affection. (People are more trusting of strangers if oxytocin is sprayed into their nose--leading me to speculate in For the Love of a Dog that we should all be armed Read More

“Muzzle Punches,” “Air Snaps” and “Tooth Clacking”

I am not sure if the title is more reminiscent of canid communication or some strange, alien kind of cookies, but let's go with the former. I'm writing this post because I'd love your interpretation of 3 canid behaviors that we've been discussing in the comments on one of my posts. I had mentioned a "muzzle punch" somewhere, and in response one commenter inquired if an air snap or muzzle punch was more predictive of a potential bite. Here, in part, is my response and a video with a great example of a muzzle punch from one dog to another: ["Muzzle punching" being a quick forward motion of the muzzle, jaws completely shut, making contact with another individual, "Air snaps" are when a dog moves exactly as if biting, but bites the air instead of an individual or object. Some people just call Read More

Books, Books, Books

Well, I had wanted to write about a book one of you asked about: The Wolf in the Parlor, but life seems to have its own schedule and I have only just started it. It is one of the gazillion books I am sent by publishers to review and I have to admit I have a hard time keeping up. (But I'd miss them if they didn't come! It's one of those high quality problems.) The book is by Pulitzer prize winning science writer Jon Franklin and has received rave reviews from the kind of places that authors dream of (Publisher's Weekly, Booklist etc.) As I said, I've just started it, but I can tell you that the book's main thesis is that people and dogs, around 12,000 years ago, linked their evolutionary paths together and evolved socially and physically to take on supportive roles. He argues, according to Read More