One of the challenges for those interested in dog behavior is keeping up with current research. Access to journal articles can require prohibitively expensive subscriptions or membership in a research institution with an extensive library system. That’s why open access journals, like Plos One are so valuable, and why I’m grateful to Monique Udell, the editor of a special issue of Behavioural Processes, New Directions in Canine Behavior, (Vol 110, Pages 1-132.) for providing open access to the issue until February 6th, 2015.
By clicking on the link above, you can read articles as varied J. Hecht’s and E. Spice Rice’s discussion on the benefits and challenges of citizen science as it relates to canine behavior, to what personality dimensions “puppy tests” actually measure, to whether rolling over in play is “defensive” or “offensive.”
This is a treasure trove of information, with free access to all seventeen articles in the entire issue until February 6th of this year. If you are like me, and don’t have time to read them all on line between now and February 6th, you can print out the pdf and read it when you can get around to it. One article that I have read already is Hecht and Spice Rice’s article on citizen science, which is an important contribution to the field, given the popularity of some popular products labeled as citizen science. It is true that citizen science presents great opportunities, but it is also rife with potential pit falls, and the authors do an excellent job distinguishing between the two.
The article by Norman et. al. about rolling over in play is also worth your attention. They argue that rolling over allows a dog to either avoid a bite to the neck, or puts it in a position to play bite the other dog’s neck. On some occasions a roll over was used as a play solicitation gesture, but never did they see any evidence that rolling onto the back was a sign of “submission,” as is often claimed. There is so much more: an article by Berns about an fMRI study of “canine brain responses to unfamiliar human and dog,” self regulatory depletion behavior in dogs and what can turn it around by Miller et. al. and lots more great stuff to read and ponder.
I hope you get a chance to look at the articles. I’d love to hear which ones are of most interest to you. I’ll never get to all of them before Feb 6th, but my printer will be very busy between now and then.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: A wonderful weekend of fun with dogs and food. I went on a cooking jag and spent hours happily chopping, braising and baking in the kitchen: I made Cock-a-Leekie Chicken Pie on Thursday night (chicken, leeks and prunes in a savory pie crust), Chicken Bone Broth on Saturday morning, the filling for Boef Bourguignon Pie Saturday night, Gaucamole Dip Saturday morning and the final version of the Boef Bourguignon Pie for Sunday dinner, and Madeleines for dessert Sunday night. (Thanks to good friends Peter and Deb for helping us eat it up.) The dogs and cats thought it was great too; many of the meals resulted in virtual pounds of meat scraps for them.
Apologies to readers: I took no photos, but refer you to the magazine Bon Appetit, which I’m holding responsible for the five pounds that I really, really need to get rid of. I know, I know… but who can diet in the middle of winter when your body is yelling at you to put on fat to protect from the cold, and your subscription to Bon Appetit seduces you with all these great recipes? I am clearly but a helpless victim here.
Thank heavens for the dogs, who got us out of the farmhouse on two long, lovely walks in the woods, and to the American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison with Tootsie as a member of the Pet Pals therapy dogs group. Usually there are three dogs of varying sizes, but Saturday was “lap dog” day, with Shanti, Honey and Tootsie providing lots of oxytocin to patients, family and friends during what otherwise is a stressful time. No photos are allowed with the patients, but Visit Captain Lori kindly agreed to hold onto all the dogs before we went up so that we owners could take photos. You’ll note that every dog is looking at its owner intently. Potential translation: “Why are you over there, when I’m over here?”
I put this photo of tulips on my home computer to counter the boring brown and grey colors of January, and thought it would be nice to share with you all the happiness that flowers can bring. It’s hard to imagine that there will be color like this is the backyard in just a few months, but Jim and I planted over 200 new bulbs, so in four months or so (argh, that long?!) we will be able to take photos like this again.
Mark Gagne says
Thank you everyone involved in sharing knowledge. Thank you Dr McConnell
Stupid question warning alert! Once I have downloaded the PDF files and saved them, will I still be able to access them after Feb. 6th? Or is it necessary to print hard copies prior to that?
What wonderful articles. Thank you SO much for sharing!
Great post, Dr. McConnell. So wonderful to have free access to those great abstracts. A big Thank You to Monique Udell, also.
I’ve been dying to read the one on rolling over in play. Now I have the chance! Thanks!
Gayla: Not a stupid question at all! I tried it out and can get a pdf on my desktop, but am checking to see if it will magically disappear once open access is over. I’ll let you know…
The article on rolling in play was very interesting and seems to confirm my layperson’s observation. While submissive rolling- where the rollover is coupled with the set of other physical signals of timidity and submission like tight ears, head ducking, wide-eyed averted gaze, low tail and tight posture- is absolutely a thing that I’ve witnessed many times (primarily as a greeting behavior between unfamiliar dogs), rolling in happy play has always seemed to me like a completely different phenomenon, one I much more often associate with a playtime instigator and boundary-pusher than a timid submissive. I felt so gratified to see THIS type of rolling described as distinct.
Oh! another sort of related thought. There is a particular style of rolling that I’ve seen in a variety of dogs but associate strongly with golden retrievers. I call it the “Flying Flop”, where the dog bounds happily along before suddenly flinging themselves to the ground in a roll before springing up again to continue bounding- often with no other dogs immediately near them. It’s such an effusively joyful move it never fails to bring a smile to my face.
Have other people seen this too?
As long as you saved a copy of the pdf (you actually have the file on your computer) and didn’t just save a link to the file, then you should be able to read it, print it, copy it to another device, etc. just like any other file.
Regarding Em’s question: yes! I LOVE the Flying Flop! We had a mixed breed dog of about 40 pounds who used to do the flop, especially in the snow. If she could manage to find a snowy hill, she’d not only flop onto her back, but would turn from side to side, propelling herself downhill on her back and sides by kicking the snow with her feet. When she couldn’t go any further, she’d jump up, shake herself off and dance around with a goofy grin on her face.
We didn’t know her breed mix, but I swear there was some seal in there!
It never seemed to matter whether other dogs were around or not–this was her own personal demonstration of joy, I think.
Em, my son’s BC/Shepherd mix loves, loves, loves to flop over on this back and roll around. It doesn’t matter if it’s on grass or snow – he’s just in 7th heaven.
Here’s what to do on a PC running windows and with the latest free version of Acrobat Reader (download that if you don’t already have it).
Once you download a pdf and store it, it won’t go away- but do make sure you save it as a pdf file and NOT as a web page! That should be easy in this case- usually journal articles indicate clearly where to click to download the pdf version of the article.
Once you see the pdf file (after clicking on that option on the journal website) the article will open. On the acrobat toolbar, you’ll see a downward-pointing arrow on the top right. That is the download button (if you scroll over it with your cursor, a little box saying “download” should appear). Click the download button, and you should see a popup box asking you whether you want to save or open the file.
If you just save it, your computer may ask you where, or it may automatically save it in the downloads folder under whatever name the file already has (Microsoft windows will do this, I’m not a Mac user so I don’t know how that works on a Mac). These names can be pretty cryptic, so you’ll have to go to your downloads folder and hunt for it, open it, and re-save it under the name and in the folder you want.
I usually get around this by opening the document before I save it. You’ll see a second copy of the article. Once it is open, you can then save it anywhere you want on your computer with whatever name makes sense to you.
Voila! All yours! And to double check, you can save your pdf files onto a thumb drive or other backup- if you can do that, those files are really there!
Your PDF file will remain on your desktop after the articles are withdrawn. I’m trying out the web archive ability on my Mac to see if that remains afterward, I think it will.
Here’s some even better news about open access. Monique just emailed me to say that the access has been extended throughout all of 2015! Whoo Hooo!
I’ve been reading the articles for the past few months, since my brother sent me the link (the US army knows everything first!). I found the rolling one very interesting. Our young Bullmastiff Rosa rolls quite frequently during play, while Daisy, our standard poodle mix, bites at her neck. On the other hand Daisy never rolls during play. I thought it was Rosa self-handicapping, but maybe it’s just play method. Daisy likes to roll for the sheer pleasure of rolling, and Rosa always jumps on her (so do the two Boxers Daisy plays with) when she does so. Now I realize they think it’s a play signal. Daisy doesn’t mean it that way, and will get up and leave, probably feeling rather peeved at having her nice roll interrupted. So interesting to figure out these things.
Thanks Carolyn, Jen and Joanne! And Mahalo to Trisha. Always Mahalo to Trisha…
Love open access. Love it. Got ’em all downloaded and reading through a bit at a time. But I wonder, Trisha, if I may be so bold to ask… maybe at some point you could do a post with some pointers on how us lay people can read science papers to get the most out of them? I can usually slog through okay, but without formal training, I’m sure I’m missing parts that may matter, especially when it comes to statistical significance and so on… And in the spirit of Citizen Science, any good references for experimental design so we might do some amateur research of our own?
Oh, and one other thing…since it’s all your fault that I am now receiving Cook’s Illustrated, I feel less sympathetic about your victimization by Bon Appetit (which I will stay away from) than I otherwise might!! (My husband has just found the Raspberry Charlotte recipe in the latest CI, btw)
Thank you so much for sharing these with us.
Feeling very fortunate
Thank you so much for letting us know about this. This is a wonderful resource and it’s so generous to keep it open to all.
I read the rollover study since that was getting the most attention. It’s certainly very interesting and the results seem counter-intuitive, since just the appearance of rolling over on one’s back certainly looks submissive. This is where I have some questions: If I’m reading it correctly (which is a big “if”), then the study says the dogs are not being submissive when they roll over, but are either avoiding a bite (offensive) or trying to get a better shot at a bite (defensive). But couldn’t just being in the position of lying on the floor with paws up in the air be an inherently submissive position since they are there because somehow they have lost the upper hand? A dog that is “winning” the play bout, is not going to be on its back. Even when they roll over to solicit play, isn’t the dog saying “Look, I’m helpless here, I’m not going to hurt you.” A dog on its back because it needs to regain the upper hand, so to speak, is clearly not in a strong position, especially if they are trying to avoid a bite.
The other thing that I didn’t see mentioned is that it seems to me that dogs will rarely switch positions while playing. Just by casually observing two dogs playing, it does appear that one seems to have the upper hand more than the other. And if you see that happening too much you can pretty much bet that there could be trouble down the road. They do mention the 50/50 rule, which I found very interesting (where the dogs should each get an equal share of control or else things don’t go well).
The other thing I don’t think they talk about is the age of the dogs. Clearly they were all pretty young because most dogs stop this kind of play as they get older. It would be interesting to track how the dogs that roll over (or not) progress in personality as they mature.
Anyway, all good reading…I’m in heaven reading this kind of stuff! Thanks again, Trisha!
Kathleen Bullard says
I can recommend reading “Self Regulatory Depletion Behavior in Dogs” article. The authors look at both human studies and canine behavior and they effect that depletion of energy in the brain has upon persistence in staying with an inhibited behavior or activity. In the dogs’ case, it was staying with a sit-stay or persisting with an insolvable puzzle. What was interesting to me is that in both humans and dogs, administering glucose or fructose (but not a calorie-free placebo) resulted in increased persistence even though they are metabolized differently. They theorize that lipids (fats) may have the same affect. What the authors concluded was that it was the release of dopamine that resulted in increased persistence.
I worked at an office where about 3:00 I couldn’t resist a candy jar to get through the afternoon. In an effort to get healthier I started bringing in fruit and that did the trick. Hmmm. We all know about food rewards for dogs in training behavior. Yet with the same biological mechanisms for being able to be persistent with an activity requiring self-regulation (in my case working in the office or the dog’s sit-stay) it once again reveals how close dogs and humans are to each other.
@HFR, I can’t answer for the researchers or claim to have observed anything like a significant sample size, but I’ve seen many dogs roll in play who do not show any other signs of submission to their playmates- often just the opposite.
Otis never, ever shows submissive postures when greeting a new dog. During play and social interaction, he never, ever lowers his head or tucks his tail, or licks another dog’s muzzle, despite often being on the receiving end of all these signals.
When he was younger, however, he frequently rolled over when playing with his close and favorite playmates. He never showed any sign of submission before or after, and the roll seemed to me most like a self-handicap- especially when playing with Sandy (half his size and initially nervous about roughhousing). He’d initiate play by batting at her and then immediately flopping to his back, inviting her to come in close to have a bit of bitey-face. After a moment he’d leap back to his feet and initiate a run-n-wrestle session with the now excited and engaged Sandy. In this case it was very clearly not a case of Otis trying to regain the upper hand or avoid intense play when he rolled- he rolled when he HAD the upper hand but wanted to play more roughly.
The significance of the roll as submissive gesture may not be entirely divorced from this behavior, though. Even though context and other signals (the high head and tail, playful batting, play bowing, lack of other submissive signals, the dramatic leap back to his feet for more intense rough play) likely communicated that Otis didn’t intend to submit “for real”, the choice to roll over bare moments after engaging a much smaller partner may have been a deliberate attempt to show his partners that he was willing to let THEM have the upper hand, in play at least.
In any case, what I’ve observed, and what the study seems to bear out, is that dogs who roll IN PLAY (the study focuses on social and willing play partners, and does not address rolling in dogs outside a play scenario, where I would argue that true submissive rolling may be observed) don’t do so to signal true submission in the way that dogs outside play scenarios may but instead seem to roll as part of play strategy. Even a dog who rolls to avoid a playful nape bite does not seem to signal submission (take pity on me) by rolling onto his back, but is simply moving into a more protected position to continue wrestling or tooth fencing (come at me, bro!)
I suspect that in real life scenarios, where dogs are not selected for their high degrees of playfulness and socialization as the study dogs were, it is much more likely to observe dogs who are submitting for real, or mixing social submission signals with their play signals so that it may be possible to find dogs who roll over in order to seek pity and de-escalation.
But I have to agree with the conclusion that many, if not most instances of rolling observed in playing dogs do not signal social submission.
True submission in a rollover definitely does exist. One of my dogs used that, entirely appropriately, and probably saved her life – or at least a major vet bill. We had been invited over so my little dog could play with a suitable pup, but the people failed to shut away their two property guarding adult German Shepherds. The pair appeared charging toward us and I had no time to react. My Polka hit the ground and stayed down. The male shepherd sniffed her and turned away; the female continued growling and paced around her until the apologetic owner removed her by the collar, apologizing. Those dogs had killed cats and another intruding dog.
I read Scent of the familiar: An fMRI study of canine brain responses to familiar and unfamiliar human and dog orders. What this told me is that I am NO scientist, that’s for sure. Never the less, I found the increase in activity to familiar human scent very interesting…and what was more interesting to me is that it raised more questions. That sure was a lot of work just to raise more questions 😉
Thank you for sharing.
Jackie D says
Did he mention rolling over as avoidance? My dog has had a lot of uncomfortable investigations and ops around her back end, and if she thinks something like that might be in the offing her default is now to squirm around onto her back “demanding” tummy rubs from obliging humans. Effective behaviour since it delays procedures (and she loves tummy rubs anyway).
Thanks, @Em. Just read your response and that makes total sense. I definitely agree that rolling over in play does not always signal submission. I guess I’m just confused by the definition of submission. I’m thinking there is a difference between an act indicating that a dog is submissive and a singular submissive act. Anyway, interesting stuff and thanks again.