Do you believe in dog?

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What happens when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Why do dogs lick people?

Just Wow. Photo: Chris Sembrot Photography
Hi Julie,
Yes, but WHY?

I loved Claudia Fugazza's guest post about drawing on dogs' social imitation capacities to learn as copy-cats in the Do as I do training technique. Good stuff!

A few things collided this week that resulted in me deciding to look into why dogs lick people. The first was the Huffington Post 'This Is What Happens When You Ask People To Kiss Their Dogs In Front Of A Camera' (example above from Chris Sembrot's 'For the love of dog' photography collection) that a friend so kindly brought to my attention. 

The second was this tweet that came to us on Twitter from passionate science education guru (and keen admirer of dogs), Charlotte Pezaro:

Now Julie, like me, I'm sure you know there's no quick and easy answer to this - I knew I needed more than 140 characters to respond to Charlotte, and I also threw it out to the 7,500+ people (What! So exciting!) in our Facebook community:

Valid point! Photo: Flickr/jmonin87

Turns out (not surprisingly!) our Facebook community is a really clued in bunch (I've hazed names to be polite). They pretty much know it all anyway. However, for Charlotte's sake, let quickly revisit why indeed, dogs lick us bipedal folk.

Food: the evolutionary basis of licking?
Many people have heard at some point or another that dogs lick at us -- and particularly our faces -- because young wolves lick and poke at adult wolf muzzles to trigger them to regurgitate food that they can then feed on. It's likely that the common ancestor shared by dogs, wolves and other canid species also demonstrated this behaviour, as it's also seen in foxes, African wild dogs, etc. 

However, licking is also seen in young canids (and many mammal species) as a newborn behaviour when a puppy seeks the mother's nipples to feed.

This suckling behaviour is thought to be re-oriented to become a useful pacifying gesture. A human analogy is to consider young children thumb-sucking to self-soothe -- imagine if they licked our faces instead when they felt a bit unsure or stressed! Dogs have been seen to use licking as a type of appeasement behaviour - often interpreted by people as intended to reduce tension or 'apologise'. This kind of 'pacifying' lick can be self directed in the absence of other dogs or people, and in extreme cases, can even be a self-mutilation health issue.

Greeting: I lick you = I like you?
Dogs may lick another (dog, or person) during greeting. This can be for a number of reasons as our clever Facebook team outlined. Greetings can even become ritualised, and in addition to licking, can include play bows, rubbing, jumping, running and vocalising.

These can be considered affiliative behaviours - designed to elicit attachment, often interpreted as bonding and playful. 

Not really from a pirate. 
These greetings are generally consistent and independent of how we look or what we do. Lynette Hart (in The Domestic Dog, see below for reference) suggests that "In this way, dogs may provide their owners with feelings of unconditional acceptance, and at the same time, enhance the person's attachment to the dog". 


Similar to the evolutionary basis of appeasement licking, affiliative licking may have originally developed in young pups experiencing parental licking to keep clean and generalised into a shared bonding and tactile behaviour amongst littermates. 

Others have suggested that dog licking can be used to 'dismiss' people or increase space. This is interesting (outlined here by Dr Patricia McConnell), and although it has not been published in the scientific literature (to my knowledge), it is something I can relate to from scenarios with my own dog. 

If I blow in Caleb's face - he will 100%, always, absolutely - lick me. If I do it again, he will 100%, always, absolutely box me with a front paw - usually right in my face. This can be teamed with a play bow and launch into play, he might move his face away or he might leave by walking off altogether. To the left I even managed to interrupt the old man's sleep on the couch to demo this for you (n=1). 


So do you think his lick saying "go away"? Or is it a variation on appeasement? Or affiliative? Food for thought. Speaking of food...

Taste: licks to sample?

Maybe we just taste good? We often have salty, sweaty hands and faces, don't we? We put delicious things into our mouths every day, so why wouldn't dogs be interested in having a sample of the residue? 

We can be fairly sure that licking, in addition to smelling, brings a whole host of information to dogs about where we have been, not just what we've ingested. It also gets our attention which may lead to more interaction, feeding, patting - things that serve to reward the behaviour and reinforce dogs that good things come from licking people.

So Julie - and Charlotte - licking is a lot of things. It can be appeasing and it can be affiliating, it can be exploratory and it can be tasty, it can get our attention or maybe even dismiss us, it can be stress relieving and it can be a sign of anxiety. The initial question asked 'Why do dogs lick you lots when they like us" - but can we assume that because they lick us, they like us? Maybe.
Flickr: MikeBaird
But maybe not always. It's certainly nice to think so. Alexandra Horowitz said, "It is not a stretch to say that the licks are a way to express happiness that you have returned". But then again - it could just be that leg moisturiser you just applied.

What an oxymoron licking appears to be - but it certainly seems important to dogs! 

I think it's important we keep asking these kinds of questions and considering the answers from the dogs' perspective.

Til next time, big slurps to all!


p.s. maybe 140 characters is enough after all?

Further reading: 

Mech L.D., Wolf P.C. & Packard J.M. (1999). Regurgitative food transfer among wild wolves, Canadian Journal of Zoology, 77 (8) 1192-1195. DOI:

Horowitz, A. (2010). Inside of a dog: What dogs see, smell, and know. Simon and Schuster.

Abrantes, R. (2013). Dog language. Dogwise Publishing.

Serpell, J. (Ed.). (1995). The domestic dog: its evolution, behaviour and interactions with people. Cambridge University Press.

Bradshaw J.W.S., Blackwell E.J. & Casey R.A. (2009). Dominance in domestic dogs—useful construct or bad habit?, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 4 (3) 135-144. DOI:

Bonanni R., Cafazzo S., Valsecchi P. & Natoli E. (2010). Effect of affiliative and agonistic relationships on leadership behaviour in free-ranging dogs, Animal Behaviour, 79 (5) 981-991. DOI:

© Mia Cobb | Do You Believe in Dog? 2014

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Do As I Do: Copy Cat Social Imitation in Dog Training

Join us for another guest post, this time from Claudia Fugazza of the Family Dog Project in Budapest. Claudia's here to discuss her recent publication in Applied Animal Behaviour Science on the efficiency of new methods in dog training.

Hi Mia and Julie,

Formal training methods used until now rely mainly on the well-known rules of individual associative learning. These methods work perfectly well for a very wide range of animals — pigeons, rats, dogs and even crabs — and human and non-human animals can learn by ‘click and treat,’ as noted in the popular training book by Karen Pryor.

However, recent research has found substantial evidence that dogs could be predisposed to acquire information socially via the ‘Do as I do’ method. Do as I Do is a relatively new training method for people to use, based on dogs’ social cognitive skills, particularly on their imitative ability. 

With this training technique, dogs learn new behaviors by observing and copying their handler. The dog is a copycat. This method relies on social learning, and it was recently introduced in the applied field of dog training. 

As this method has started spreading in the dog training world, we felt that its efficiency and efficacy needed scientific testing. We were also wanting to know whether this method would be more or less efficient than other current training methods in training for particular behaviors.

We expected that dogs would more easily copy object-related actions from a human demonstrator so we tested dogs’ efficiency in this kind of tasks. To do this, I travelled across Italy and the UK with my video-cameras as well as a heavy Ikea cabinet filled with objects (you can imagine the weird looks I got from security personal at checkpoints!). I used these objects to test dogs learning to open or close drawers and lockers, pick up items from it etc. Since training methods can be affected by the skills of the trainer, only experienced dog-owners pairs who achieved a certificate either for the ‘Do as I do’ method or for shaping / clicker training were included in the study. Each pair was tested using ‘his’ method for teaching three different object-related actions in three testing sessions.

We expected that the ‘Do as I do’ method would prove more efficient for teaching complex tasks, compared to the shaping method that relies on individual learning. This expectation comes from what we know in humans: we tend to rely more on social learning when required to learn something difficult.

Our research found that the ‘Do as I do’ method proved more efficient for teaching dogs complex tasks, like close a drawer, open a locker and pick up an item that was inside (i.e., the time needed by the owner to obtain the first correct performance of the predetermined action was shorter with the ‘Do as I do’ method compared to shaping). We did not find a significant difference in the efficiency of the methods for teaching dogs simple tasks like knocking over a bottle or ringing a bell.

Now that we know a bit more on how to efficiently teach complex object-related actions, we are curious to know what happens when we want to teach different kind of complex actions, like body movements. We also want to know whether introducing social learning in dog training could have an effect on learning cues for trained action. 

We are aware that learning rates can be influenced by many factors, and we acknowledge that this study is just a very first step towards a more scientific approach to training paradigms. However we believe that this kind of information can be very important for the practitioners working in the applied field of dog training. We hope that the readers will not misinterpret the results and will not extend them to different actions and situations that were not tested.

Furthermore we would like to emphasize that, despite being efficient for training some kinds of actions, the ‘Do as I do’ method does not replace the methods based on individual learning (for example think of how many actions are not imitable at all if the demonstrator is a human and the learner is a dog!). Instead ‘Do as I do’ is a useful (and fun!) addition to existing training paradigms. Experienced dog trainers may find effective ways to mix the different training techniques in order to obtain the best results with each dog. 

Claudia Fugazza
Do as I Do Book and DVD
Family Dog Project 

Fugazza C. & Miklósi Á. (2014). Should old dog trainers learn new tricks? The efficiency of the Do as I do method and shaping/clicker training method to train dogs, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 153 53-61. DOI:

© Do You Believe in Dog? 2014
p.s. Check out this dog's excellent jump!

Friday, 21 March 2014

Pass me the 'dog book'

Hi Mia!

So many books. Written about dogs. Most I see at the airport, memoirs of someone’s ‘very special relationship’ with a 'very special' dog, another about dogs ‘racing in the rain,’ (seems like it would be a pretty short book, or would make a better YouTube video), and some even feature a dog as a private eye (many are fans of this one, see Patricia McConnell’s review).

Sometimes while sitting in the living room I joke with my boyfriend, “Pass me the dog book." Maybe I find this WAY more funny than he does, but like you, I am surrounded by dog books! Right in front of me is The Domestic Dog (Serpell, ed), and to my right I can see Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog (Scott and Fuller). Beneath that is What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs (Warren).

Now we’ll all be surrounded by one more dog book, Domestic Dog Cognition and Behavior The Scientific Study of Canis familiaris! This one I am particularly biased towards because it is edited by Alexandra Horowitz, and I co-authored one of the chapters with her. As an edited volume, Horowitz -- and her way with words and dogs (she authored Inside of a Dog) -- stands behind the text, but each chapter has its own focus and tone. The book is in three parts:
  • Part I covers the perceptual abilities of dogs and the effect of interbreeding
  • Part II includes observational and experimental results from studies of social cognition – such as learning and social referencing – and physical cognition in canids
  • Part III summarizes the work in the field to date, reviewing various conceptual and methodological approaches, and testing anthropomorphisms with regard to dogs
  • The final chapter discusses the practical application of behavioral and cognitive results to promote animal welfare

Here’s a look at a few chapters in detail: 

Canine Olfaction: Scent, Sign, and Situation
Think you know canine olfaction? Think again! This chapter by Gadbois and Reeve discusses topics like “zoosemiotics" and “canine olfactory psychoethology.” Yeah! (and yes, the words “peemail” and “Nosebook” appear in this chapter). More about Gadbois and his work here.

Dog Breeds and Their Behavior
This chapter by James Serpell and Deborah Duffy is probably of interest to many (and it is already listed on the book website as “popular content”). They note that while there are some “breed-associated temperament traits, such as, German shorthaired pointers deliberately selected for nervousness/fearfulness,” it’s generally more complex than that on an individual basis. More about Duffy here, and Serpell here (and Serpell edited the 1995 book, The Domestic Dog).

Measuring the Behaviour of Dogs: An Ethological Approach
What do ‘dog cognition’ studies actually look like? This chapter, by Claudia Fugazza and Ádam Miklósi, takes readers on a behind-the-scenes tour of research in practice with topics like single-subject studies (dogs like Chase, Rico, Betsy etc.), comparative studies, and the presence or absence of owners during cognitive tests. For a further look into dog cognition studies, check out It’s a “web-based system that facilitates the exchange of videos among students of animal behavior.” More about Fugazza here, and Miklósi and the Family Dog Project here.

Looking at Dogs: Moving from Anthropocentrism to Canid Umwelt  
This chapter begins, "As a companion to humans, the domestic dog is naturally interpreted from a human-centered (anthropocentric) perspective." In this chapter, Alexandra Horowitz and I cover recent research into attributions to dogs, particularly the "guilty look" and inequity aversion, as well as factors that can impact peoples' interpretation of "human" in dog. We also investigate anthropocentric and canid-centric elements of our own and others’ research. Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab here

The remaining chapters cover:
  • Marc Bekoff: The Significance of Ethological Studies: Playing and Peeing
  • Ludwig Huber, Friederike Range & Zsófia Virányi: Dog Imitation and Its Possible Origins (Clever Dog Lab)
  • Emanuela Prato-Previde & Sarah Marshall-Pescini: Social Looking in the Domestic Dog (website)
  • Alejandra Rossi, Daniel Smedema, Francisco J. Parada & Colin Allen: Visual Attention in Dogs and the Evolution of Non-Verbal Communication
  • Sylvain Fiset, Pierre Nadeau-Marchand & Nathaniel Hall: Cognitive Development in Gray Wolves: Development of Object Permanence and Sensorimotor Intelligence with Respect to Domestic Dogs (Canine Cognition Lab)
For those working with shelter or working dogs, the final chapter by Rooney and Bradshaw is incredibly useful. Scratch that. Anyone who cares about dogs should understand how animal welfare science can be applied to canines.

What can I say? Books about canine behavior, biology and cognition are great.


Horowitz A. (2014). Domestic Dog Cognition and Behavior The Scientific Study of Canis familiaris, DOI:

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Canines and Castles: 4th Canine Science Forum Abstract & Early Bird Registration Deadline Friday

“Two canine scientists, Julie Hecht and Mia Cobb, met briefly at a conference in Barcelona in late July 2012. They share a passion for canine science, good communication, social media and fun.”

So reads the 'About' page at Do You Believe in Dog?. After a brief hello at the 3rd Canine Science Forum in Barcelona, we decided to embark on an adventure as digital pen pals, taking turns blogging on topics related to our own research, that of other research groups and general dog science themes.  

In the last two years, Do You Believe in Dog? has grown to include a blog with over 100 posts, contributions from guest blogging canine scientists around the world, as well as vibrant Facebook and Twitter communities.

Pretty soon, it’ll be time for the 4th Canine Science Forum (Facebook) July 15-17, 2014 in Lincoln, UK! The conference will be proceeded by the 1st Feline Science Forum, July 14, same location, as well as a day dedicated to Companion Animals - Human Health & Disease, July 18, same location (scroll down for the program).

This is a reminder that this Friday, March 14, 2014, is the deadline for abstract submission and early bird conference registration.

The scientific programme includes a number of already scheduled talks. Read about the invited speakers here:

Prof. Benjamin Hart (USA) From the Woods to Home: What Wolves Tell Us About Dog Behavior

Dr. Mariana Bentosela (Argentina)
‘Reinforcement effects upon interspecific communication in domestic dogs. What do we know so far?’

Dr Erik Axelsson (Sweden) ‘What makes the dog special – The canine genome in comparison with other mammalian genomes’

Prof. Clive D. L. Wynne (USA) ‘Comparative Cognition of Dogs and Wolves: What Makes a Dog a Dog?’

Prof. Claudio Sillero (UK) ‘What shapes dog society? Cooperation in the wonderfully adaptable Canidae’

Dr. John Finarelli (Ireland) ‘Patterns and processes from the fossil record of canids’

Prof. James Serpell (USA) Public Lecture


Did we mention the Gala Dinner is in a Castle?

See you at the 4th Canine Science Forum in Lincoln, UK!

Mia and Julie

Check out some of the science presented at CSF2012:

Cobb M., Branson N. & McGreevy P. (2013). Advancing the welfare of Australia’s iconic working dogs, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 8 (4) e42-e43. DOI:

Hecht J. & Horowitz A. (2013). Physical prompts to anthropomorphism of the domestic dog (Canis familiaris), Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 8 (4) e30. DOI:

Racca A., Range F., Virányi Z. & Huber L. (2013). Discrimination of familiar human faces in domestic dogs, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 8 (4) e46. DOI:

Dreschel N.A. & Entendencia K. (2013). Stress during certification testing in prison drug detection dogs and their handlers, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 8 (4) e28. DOI:

Howell T.J., Toukhsati S., Conduit R. & Bennett P. (2013). Do dogs use a mirror to find hidden food?, Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 8 (6) 425-430. DOI:

All Abstracts can be viewed in the CSF 2012 Conference Handbook

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Attachment: measuring our (varying) relationships with dogs.

Hi Julie,

Right off the bat I need to say YES YES YES! 

Your last post about aggression and what we can learn from and about it WITHOUT the need to experience it was spot on. 

Are you THIS attached to your dog? (source)
You’re also right that my head is filled with glorious meta-analysis results right now, as well as perceptions and other measures (#allthemeasures!) as I start preparing my abstracts for submission to be part of the Canine Science Forum.

One of the small but quirky things I’ve noticed in the results of the perceived welfare of dogs survey, is that people seem to think their own pet dog has a much higher level of welfare than everyone else’s pet dog. Why would we think we take better care of our own dogs than anyone else? Now, this could be to do with the self-selected convenience sample of people who took the online questionnaire. Perhaps the 2,146 people who were interested and motivated enough to take the time to do the survey really are the very top of the pile of all dog owners, but I found it interesting all the same.

It got me thinking about our relationships with dogs (Ha! What’s new, right?!). I also happened to have a chat with Hal Herzog (while recording an upcoming episode of Human Animal Science) and, amongst many other things, we talked about how animals and pets aren’t universally beneficial for all people. Some people don’t even like their dogs. We know from extensive research into human psychology that our attitudes are major predictors of our behaviour. So are people who really love their animals more likely to take better care of them? (The answer is no, not always). Why is it that even people like us, who really find dogs fascinating and work with them daily, can feel more of a 'connection' with one individual dog, but not so much another?

Definitely attached to dog (source)
When faced with a question like this, how do we measure these differences scientifically? We can look at (usually self-reported by the human) measures, such as time per day spent in the company, or interacting/sharing activities with pet dogs. This is valuable, but does not necessarily indicate emotional closeness of a person to their dog.

Lucky for me, plenty of psychologists, including earlier members of the Anthrozoology Research Group have tackled this and worked hard to create scales that measure the human-animal bond. The Monash Dog-Owner Relationship Scale, or MDORS as it’s more affectionately known is a great example. MDORS is a series of questions that form a psychometrically sound and validated scale. 

This scale was developed with the assistance of over 1,000 participants and comprises 28 items (statements that you agree/disagree with on a 5 point likert-style scale) across three subscales: Dog–Owner Interaction (e.g. “How often do you play games with your dog”), Perceived Emotional Closeness (e.g. “I wish my dog and I never had to be apart”), and Perceived Costs (e.g. "It is annoying that I sometimes have to change my plans because of my dog"). A scale like this can be used not just to assess how attached people are to their pet dogs, but also to explore how these attachments might vary between dogs, and with different groups of people (e.g. from different countries, with different cultural, work experience or education backgrounds, etc.), making it a very powerful tool for researchers. 

(excerpt from Dwyer et al, 2006)
Used in conjunction with other questionnaires to investigate areas like grief at the loss of a pet, responsible pet ownership practices by owners, oxytocin levels in dogs, or human health benefits derived from pet ownership; attachment measures, like MDORS, can help us learn more about the importance of attachment to successful relationships for both human and dogs.

How many dogs are you attached to? (Flickr)
You might remember Tammie King's research, that used a modified version of the Ainsworth Strange Situation to see what dogs did when separated from their familiar person  and approached by a stranger (in her case, helping to measure the canine trait of amicability through their reaction toward the stranger). Tammie also asked owners to complete the MDORS and used the results in interpreting the canine behavioural data analysis for her PhD.

So often in our research, it's important to measure both sides of the story, because we've learned the experience of the human, or even the human's perception of the dog's experience, just don't match up to the dogs' experience.

I'm pleased to see you'll be tackling topics like these this weekend in San Francisco at the Canine Science Symposium event - yet another great line up of fantastic canine scientists sharing science for everyone:
(Source: Photo Lab Pet Photography)

Meanwhile, I'm getting back to my research and pondering if attachment might relate to perceived welfare of dogs.

Looking forward to your next update,


Further reading:

Dwyer F., Bennett P.C. & Coleman G.J. (2006). Development of the Monash Dog Owner Relationship Scale (MDORS), Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 19 (3) 243-256. DOI:

Rohlf V.I., Bennett P.C., Toukhsati S. & Coleman G. (2010). Why Do Even Committed Dog Owners Fail to Comply with Some Responsible Ownership Practices?, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 23 (2) 143-155. DOI: 

Archer J. & Ireland J.L. (2011). The Development and Factor Structure of a Questionnaire Measure of the Strength of Attachment to Pet Dogs, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 24 (3) 249-261. DOI:

Handlin L., Nilsson A., Ejdebäck M., Hydbring-Sandberg E. & Uvnäs-Moberg K. (2012). Associations between the Psychological Characteristics of the Human–Dog Relationship and Oxytocin and Cortisol Levels, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 25 (2) 215-228. DOI:

© Mia Cobb | Do You Believe in Dog? 2014

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Dog Loses Ear at Dog Park and There Was Nothing We Could Do About It

#SPARCS2014 Day 1
Hi Mia!

Looking forward to the upcoming SPARCS conference in June! We’ll be in Newport, Rhode Island from June 20-22, 2014 with the live audience doing the play-by-play (my dad is going to have to give me baseball reporting tips beforehand), but ANYONE on planet Earth can watch the conference live for free!

Each day of the conference is dedicated to one general topic, and that's not something you often see at conferences. Usually, one person gives a keynote, maybe there’s time for Q&A, and that’s the end! This time, multiple experts will weigh in on the same topic. 

#SPARCS2014 Day 1: June 20, 2014 covers "Aggression and Conflict." Expert speakers (bios here) join the day of talks with takeaways like:
  • Patricia McConnell: To be able to recognize the visual signs of conflict and agonistic behavior  
  • Ray Coppinger: To understand motor patterns when interpreting aggression  
  • James Serpell: To draw attention to what we do and don’t know about aggression in dogs 
  • Simon Gadbois: To learn the richness of the concept of behavioral and social “rules” 
  • Kathryn Lord: To understand how the broader scientific field of animal behavior and comparison to other animals can inform us about dog behavior
Reading about what will be covered, I couldn’t help but think about people who are personally dealing with companion dog aggression or conflict issues -- not the most warm and fuzzy thing to have to deal with. And then I remembered that while many dogs may be dealing with aggression and conflict issues, many people are not necessarily aware that there’s even an issue in their midst!

Let me back up and explain:

Just this month I learned about a paper, Situated activities in a dog park: Identity and conflict in human-animal space, at The Science Dog (Blog / Facebook), a blog maintained by Linda Case, M.S., (author of numerous books on dog behavior, nutrition and training). Case recently reviewed the paper, and you can read her review here.  
Flickr Creative Commons, Justin Beckley
Patrick Jackson, the author of 'Situated activities in a dog park,' is a sociologist at Sonoma State University. At a general level, his paper explores “how people and their dogs do things (activities) together (situated) in the dog park environment.” A ‘situated activity’ is one that bring people together not because they are best best best friends, but because they share a common interest, and in this case, that interest is dogs.

At the dog park, people spend a great deal of time talking about, well, dogs. Jackson describes dog park conversations that we are all familiar with: “Which one is yours?” and “What’s his/her name?”, with follow-up questions about age and habits.

We know that people readily talk to and through their dogs. Over at The Dodo, Alexandra Horowitz recently covered the different types of things we say to dogs (my favorite: “We don't need you to fix everyone's problems.”) I’ve discussed our one-sided conversations with animals over at Scientific American: Did You Have A Good Pee, Mr. Rhino? (I swear the post is about dogs).

But back to Jackson's paper: My ears perked up in the section “Control management.” Jackson comments that the dog park can be a hodgepodge of many dogs doing many different things. Meanwhile, dog owners don’t always know whether something ‘should be done’ and if so, what that ‘something’ should look like.
Per Jackson, “it is also ambiguous how caretakers are supposed to manage their own and others’ dogs in the dog park. If a dog is about to enter the park and is snarling at yours, should you intercede?”

And because dog parks don’t come equipped with species-specific referees (think on-site social workers, psychologists and animal behaviorists), dog parks can be chaotic, even unsafe.

Dogs are confusing. People are confusing. Put them together in a public space, and it’s like all the circuses came to town on the same day.

To add insult to injury, dogs also come with teeth. Again, Jackson:

“It is difficult to know, for example, when untoward behavior like aggressiveness is imminent (King & Long, 2004). In the dynamic dog park environment, knowledge about aggression may only be gained through experience.”





The first sentence I get. 

“It is difficult to know, for example, when untoward behavior like aggressiveness is imminent.”

That's true. People are not innately able to recognize fear and stress behaviors in dogs, even a dog that they live with. And with dogs coming in all shapes, sizes and ‘ways of displaying canid behaviors,’ detecting fear and stress is even more challenging. Many distance-increasing signals can easily go unnoticed. So far, so good, Mr. Jackson.

But the second part:

“In the dynamic dog park environment, knowledge about aggression may only be gained through experience.”

Makes zero sense. Scratch that. It makes less than zero sense.

The field of animal behavior is all about studying what animals do. Some researchers study play in goats, while others might study aggressive displays in chimps, ants, stickleback fish, or even cranes (such as what aggression and its precursors look like in each of these species). As Mugatu from Zoolander might say, “Dogs are so hot right now.” Many are investigating why dogs do what they do, and veterinarians, veterinary behaviorists, trainers, ethologists, comparative psychologists, behavior analysts, and anthrozoologists are hot on the trail.

Aggression and conflict is an area that many animal behavior researchers investigate. Which is to say, people who live with dogs are lucky: science-based resources on dog aggression and conflict exist and are only growing.

For dog owners, "aggression” doesn’t have to be this strange, unknown, out-of-the-blue thing. You don’t have to wait until your hand is bitten to learn about aggression. Heck, we could even argue that we learn less about aggression and conflict through actual experience. Ever hear anybody say: “OOOOoh! Now I get it! I now clearly see all the things that led up to that dog biting that other dog’s ear off. I will certainly not miss it next time”? To an untrained eye, witnessing conflict is usually very upsetting and scary, not something where you walk away with a deeper understanding of what actually went down or how it could have been avoided.
SPARCS website
Here are some free, science-based ways to learn about dog aggression & conflict: 

1) #SPARCS2014 Day 1: June 20, 2014 'Aggression and Conflict'
Anybody in the world can tune in live for this day of research into conflict and aggression. Join Patricia McConnell, Ray Coppinger, James Serpell, Simon Gadbois and Kathryn Lord as they examine this topic from different angles.

2) Free Dog Behavior Webinars (watch live or watch the recordings)
For the last few years, The Center for Shelter Dogs (Twitter / Facebook) and ASPCA Professional (Twitter / Facebook) have been holding free Webinars on companion animal behavior, care and sheltering. Many of the Webinars focus on dog behavior, and they are led by trainers, practitioners, veterinarians and researchers who work with dogs from hoarding and fighting cases, as well as companion, street and shelter dogs. These hour-long Webinars are free, archived and available online now!

ASPCA Pro Archived Webinars (search by topic, select few below)

The Center for Shelter Dogs Archived Webinars (search by date, select few listed below)

  • Wondering About Food Aggression in Shelter Dogs?, February 2014
  • Fear of People, May 2013
  • Optimizing Canine Welfare, February 2013

3) CAAB Chats
Online CAAB chats are new to the scene. These free monthly talks are hosted by Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists, people with a PhD (or ACAABs with a Masters) in an Animal Behavior field. Learn more about CAABs and ACAABs here. These monthly talks are free to watch live with a small fee for the recording. The initial two talks covered ‘Canine Communication’ and ‘Response Prevention.’ Next up, ‘Social Roles and Relationships in Dogs’ on March 27, 2014. Sign up for updates about future talk topics here.


You and I know this is not an exhaustive list (we could add books, blogs, websites and more webinars another day — for this I focused on resources that are available and mostly free). Aggression and conflict are not all that straightforward, and hearing about it from another person, especially in the form of a Webinar, can make the topic a lot more manageable.

When #SPARCS2014 Day 1: Aggression and Conflict comes around, I hope people show up open to the idea that there are many ways to learn about aggression and conflict, and that “knowledge about aggression may only be gained through experience” won’t serve anyone, dog or person.

Oh, and why is the post titled, Dog Loses Ear at Dog Park and There Was Nothing We Could Do About It? Check out The Science Dog post Dog Park People for more on those unfortunate details.

Hope all’s well! I think there's a meta-analysis on your horizon...


Jackson P. 2012. Situated activities in a dog park: Identity and conflict in human-animal space. Society and Animals 20, 254-272. DOI: 

Case, L. 2014. Dog Park People. The Science Dog Blog

Copyright Do You Believe in Dog? 2014