Learning from the play of dogs.

A recent newspaper article offers yet more learning from dogs.

I can’t recall how I came across the article but so what!  What I do recall was reading a recent item in The Washington Post and thinking that has to be reported here on Learning from Dogs.

The article, written by David Grimm, was entitled: In dogs’ play, researchers see honesty and deceit, perhaps something like morality. Here’s how it opened:

A shaggy brown terrier approaches a large chocolate Labrador in a city park. When the terrier gets close, he adopts a yogalike pose, crouching on his forepaws and hiking his butt into the air. The Lab gives an excited bark, and soon the two dogs are somersaulting and tugging on each other’s ears. Then the terrier takes off and the Lab gives chase, his tail wagging wildly. When the two meet once more, the whole thing begins again.

Watch a couple of dogs play, and you’ll probably see seemingly random gestures, lots of frenetic activity and a whole lot of energy being expended. But decades of research suggest that beneath this apparently frivolous fun lies a hidden language of honesty and deceit, empathy and perhaps even a humanlike morality.

Now I don’t have permission to reproduce the entire article but will draw your attention to this further piece:

All of this suggests that dogs have a kind of moral code — one long hidden to humans until a cognitive ethologist named Marc Bekoff began to crack it.

A wiry 68-year-old with reddish-gray hair tied back in a long ponytail, Bekoff is a professor emeritus at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he taught for 32 years. He began studying animal behavior in the early 1970s, spending four years videotaping groups of dogs, wolves and coyotes in large enclosures and slowly playing back the tapes, jotting down every nip, yip and lick. “Twenty minutes of film could take a week to analyze,” he says.

The data revealed insights into how the animals maintained their tight social bonds — by grooming each other, for example. But what changed Bekoff’s life was watching them play. The wolves would chase each other, run, jump and roll over for seemingly no other reason than to have fun.

Few people had studied animal play, but Bekoff was intrigued. “Play is a major expenditure of energy, and it can be dangerous,” he says. “You can twist a shoulder or break a leg, and it can increase your chances of being preyed upon. So why do they do it? It has to feel good.”

Suddenly, Bekoff wasn’t interested just in behavior; he was interested also in emotions and, fundamentally, what was going on inside these animals’ heads.

Marc Bekoff’s name rang a bell with me and, sure enough, I found that previously he was mentioned here.  It was a post called Daisy offers a lesson for all,:

Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?
by Marc Bekoff – Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Daisy: The Injured Dog Who Believed She’d Walk Again and Did

Anthrozoology, also called human-animal studies (HAS), is a rapidly growing and expanding interdisciplinary field. A recent and comprehensive review of this wide-ranging discipline can be found in Paul Waldau’s book titled Animal Studies: An IntroductionMany of the essays I write for Psychology Today have something to do with anthrozoology in that they focus on the wide variety of relationships that humans establish with nonhuman animals (animals). Some essays also discuss what we can learn from other animals, including traits such as trust, friendship, forgiveness, love, and hope.

Often, a simple video captures the essence of the deep nature of the incredibly close and enduring bonds we form with other animals and they with us. As a case in point, my recent essay called “A Dog and His Man” showed a dog exuberantly expressing his deep feelings for a human companion he hadn’t seen for six months. Another essay titled “My Dog Always Eats First: Homeless People and Their Animals” dealt with the relationship between homeless people and the animals with whom they share their lives.

Daisy: An unforgettable and inspirational symbol of dedication and hope

I just saw another video called “Daisy – the Little Pup Who Believed” that is well-worth sharing widely with others of all ages. There is no way I can summarize the depth of five-month old Daisy’s resolve to walk again after she was injured or of the devotion of the woman, Jolene, who found her on the side of a road – scared, malnourished, unable to walk or wag her tail, the people who contributed money to help her along, or the wonderful veterinarians and staff at Barrie Veterinary Hospital in Ontario, Canada, who took care of her. You can also read about Daisy’s remarkable and inspirational journey here.

Please take five minutes out of your day to watch this video, read the text, listen to the song that accompanies it, and share it widely. I am sure you will get teary as you watch Daisy go from an injured little ball of fur living in a ditch on the side of a road with a broken spine to learning to walk in water to romping around wildly as if life had been that proverbial pail of cherries from the start.

I’ve watched Daisy’s journey many times and every single time my eyes get watery. Among the many lessons in this wonderful video is “stay strong and never give up”. Clearly dogs and many other animals can truly teach us about traits such as trust, friendshipforgiveness, love, and hope.

Back to that Washington Post article.

Bekoff’s recent work suggests another remarkable canine skill: the ability to know what another animal is thinking — a so-called “theory of mind.”

Dogs seem to display a rudimentary form of this skill during play. He has noticed, for example, that one dog won’t begin trying to play with another dog until he has her attention. To get her to notice, he may nip the other dog or run into her field of view. That, Bekoff says, shows that the one wanting to play knows that she’s not paying attention to him. Though this may seem like a simple skill, it’s incredibly important to our species. Without it, we can have a hard time learning or interacting with the world around us.

So will leave you with this video and return to the theme tomorrow.

4 thoughts on “Learning from the play of dogs.

  1. I can often convey an idea to a dog by just looking at them, they have an uncanny ability to pick up what I am thinking by looking at my face and eyes.

    Like

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