Dogs & Wolves: Diet and Sociability

Arlo

We all know that dogs are wolves in one sense (can reproduce and their young are reproductively viable) and, as importantly, that dogs aren't wolves at all. Just try to teach a wolf "leave it" if you happen upon a dead rabbit. Here are two new studies that shed light on the social systems of the domestic dog, and might help some of us decide what we need to be feeding our dogs. First, Erik Axelsson and colleagues compared the genes of wolves and domestic dogs and found some very interesting differences. One of the differences is related to diet: dogs have three genes that wolves do not that play an important role in the digestion of starch (for those of you who are interested, the genes are AMY2B, MGAM and SGLT1). This result supports the "village dog" hypothesis, (of Coppinger and Read More

Markers and Secondary Reinforcers

Hope & Sherman

We've been talking about secondary reinforcers and markers, and the good question has come up about the difference between them. On the one hand, we know that a click or a "yes" can be used to communicate to a dog that a specific behavior is what is about to be reinforced. Clicking or saying "yes" at exactly the right moment is incredibly powerful in that it is a precise way of communicating to an animal exactly what it was doing that will elicit the reinforcement (clicks are more precise than words, by the way). However, you could also call a click or "yes" a 2ndary reinforcer, since to be effective it is paired with a primary reinforcer like food, and the animal learns to associate the click/marker with the treat, right? So which is it? Ah, you gotta love the English language: Read More

“Ready?” Using meta-communication to help your dog

A short post today, but I hope a helpful one. It's inspired by the "mud luscious and puddle wonderful" nature of spring, and the need to wipe off Will's paws as we enter the house when it's wet outside. As I was drying Willie's paws a few days ago, I thought about how much easier it is now that I say "Ready?" right before I pick up each leg. Since I started communicating my intention ("now I am going to pick up this paw"), he is beginning, on occasion, to pick up a paw himself, but more often he will shift his weight so that it is less awkward for him. (Yep, I could train him to pick up each paw on cue... also a potential solution, but keep reading for some potential benefits of a more generalized cue.) Keep in mind that this is the dog who, as an adolescent, growled at meĀ  when I picked Read More

Silo Sadness & Sister Happy

Good news and bad news: Best and wonderful news for me is that my sister, Dr. Wendy Barker, is coming to do a reading for her new book, Nothing Between Us, this Thursday night at UW. (Come one come all!) Her book has not a darn thing to do with dogs, but it's pure and simply brilliant and I can't wait for her reading. (For those of you who are interested in a novel in "prose/poetry" form about a multi-racial affair and life in the 60's in Berkeley, California, the talk is in Helen C. White, Room 66191, 7 pm, Thursday the 29th). Full disclosure: Yup, she is my sister and so my objectivity might be a tad, uh, challenged? But I'm not the only one raving about this book... everyone I know who has read it loves it... Sad news is about the farm. It might sound strange, but I have to have my Read More

Could Breeders and Shelters Work Together?

Thank you so much for all your insightful comments about overpopulated shelters and whether responsible breeders could help reduce the number of dogs who enter shelters in the first place. Here are a few, admittedly somewhat random, thoughts about the issue. One: Boy would I like to see more collaborative efforts between good breeders, shelters and rescue groups. I know that already occurs in some areas, and Here Here! to that, but I wish somehow we could more often use the energy and commitment of these groups to 1) publicize a universally understood definition of "responsible breeder" so that the public understands what that really means 2) create more, affordable support systems to help people when they need help with training and behavioral problems. (FYI, I too have heard a common Read More