Tag: Brian Hare

Facing up to the end!

It comes to all of us: dogs and humans.

The following article looks deeply into the dog’s life. Or rather the end of the dog’s life.

For the fact of the matter is that we all have this coming to us. Some turn to religion; some know that we are on our own. Every living creature shares the same fate as us humans.

Yet there is something very special about the dog. Something that sets the dog apart. Something that elevates the dog into more than an animal, despite how silly that is to write. But you know what I mean.

Enough from me. Let me turn to the following article that was published on The Conversation website and is republished within the terms of that site.

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Why losing a dog can be harder than losing a relative or friend

By    Cornelia H. Dudley, Professor of Psychology, Knox College

March 9, 2017

Recently, my wife and I went through one of the more excruciating experiences of our lives – the euthanasia of our beloved dog, Murphy. I remember making eye contact with Murphy moments before she took her last breath – she flashed me a look that was an endearing blend of confusion and the reassurance that everyone was ok because we were both by her side.

When people who have never had a dog see their dog-owning friends mourn the loss of a pet, they probably think it’s all a bit of an overreaction; after all, it’s “just a dog.”

However, those who have loved a dog know the truth: Your own pet is never “just a dog.”

Many times, I’ve had friends guiltily confide to me that they grieved more over the loss of a dog than over the loss of friends or relatives. Research has confirmed that for most people, the loss of a dog is, in almost every way, comparable to the loss of a human loved one. Unfortunately, there’s little in our cultural playbook – no grief rituals, no obituary in the local newspaper, no religious service – to help us get through the loss of a pet, which can make us feel more than a bit embarrassed to show too much public grief over our dead dogs.

Perhaps if people realized just how strong and intense the bond is between people and their dogs, such grief would become more widely accepted. This would greatly help dog owners to integrate the death into their lives and help them move forward.

An interspecies bond like no other

What is it about dogs, exactly, that make humans bond so closely with them?

For starters, dogs have had to adapt to living with humans over the past 10,000 years. And they’ve done it very well: They’re the only animal to have evolved specifically to be our companions and friends. Anthropologist Brian Hare has developed the “Domestication Hypothesis” to explain how dogs morphed from their grey wolf ancestors into the socially skilled animals that we now interact with in very much the same way as we interact with other people.

Perhaps one reason our relationships with dogs can be even more satisfying than our human relationships is that dogs provide us with such unconditional, uncritical positive feedback. (As the old saying goes, “May I become the kind of person that my dog thinks I already am.”)

This is no accident. They have been selectively bred through generations to pay attention to people, and MRI scans show that dog brains respond to praise from their owners just as strongly as they do to food (and for some dogs, praise is an even more effective incentive than food). Dogs recognize people and can learn to interpret human emotional states from facial expression alone. Scientific studies also indicate that dogs can understand human intentions, try to help their owners and even avoid people who don’t cooperate with their owners or treat them well.

Not surprisingly, humans respond positively to such unqualified affection, assistance and loyalty. Just looking at dogs can make people smile. Dog owners score higher on measures of well-being and they are happier, on average, than people who own cats or no pets at all.

Like a member of the family

Our strong attachment to dogs was subtly revealed in a recent study of “misnaming.” Misnaming happens when you call someone by the wrong name, like when parents mistakenly calls one of their kids by a sibling’s name. It turns out that the name of the family dog also gets confused with human family members, indicating that the dog’s name is being pulled from the same cognitive pool that contains other members of the family. (Curiously, the same thing rarely happens with cat names.)

It’s no wonder dog owners miss them so much when they’re gone.

Psychologist Julie Axelrod has pointed out that the loss of a dog is so painful because owners aren’t just losing the pet. It could mean the loss of a source of unconditional love, a primary companion who provides security and comfort, and maybe even a protégé that’s been mentored like a child.

The loss of a dog can also seriously disrupt an owner’s daily routine more profoundly than the loss of most friends and relatives. For owners, their daily schedules – even their vacation plans – can revolve around the needs of their pets. Changes in lifestyle and routine are some of the primary sources of stress.

According to a recent survey, many bereaved pet owners will even mistakenly interpret ambiguous sights and sounds as the movements, pants and whimpers of the deceased pet. This is most likely to happen shortly after the death of the pet, especially among owners who had very high levels of attachment to their pets.

While the death of a dog is horrible, dog owners have become so accustomed to the reassuring and nonjudgmental presence of their canine companions that, more often than not, they’ll eventually get a new one.

So yes, I miss my dog. But I’m sure that I’ll be putting myself through this ordeal again in the years to come.

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I don’t want to think of losing any more of our family but it will surely happen. As night follows day!

Going to close with this:

Pharaoh, relaxing in a Devon garden.

Back to dogs and play

A range of ideas that elevate our understanding of dogs.

Last Thursday, I wrote the opening to what became a two-part essay.  The essence of that first part was the conclusion by Marc Bekoff, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, that, “Clearly dogs and many other animals can truly teach us about traits such as trust, friendship, forgiveness, love, and hope.

You will recall that the reference to Marc Bekoff came from an article written by David Grimm (1) in The Washington Post.  Let me refer back to that article:

In the wild, coyotes ostracize pack members that don’t play by the rules. Something similar happens in dog parks: If three dogs are playing and one bites or tackles too hard, the other two are likely to give him the cold shoulder and stop playing with him, Bekoff says. Such behavior, he says, suggests that dogs are capable of morality, a mind-set once thought to be uniquely human.

Even morality hints at something deeper, however. To enforce moral conduct, dogs must be able to experience a spectrum of emotions, from joy to indignation, guilt to jealousy. They must also be able to read these emotions in others, distinguishing accident from intent, honesty from deceit. And indeed, recent studies by other scientists have shown evidence of these abilities (confirming what many dog owners already feel about their pets).

Scientists have found, for example, that dogs trained to shake hands with humans will stop shaking if they notice that they aren’t being rewarded for the trick although a nearby dog is — a sign, the researchers suggested, that dogs can sense inequity.

Other studies have revealed that dogs yawn when they see humans yawning and that they nuzzle and lick people who are crying; scientists consider both behaviors displays of empathy, a rarely documented trait in the animal kingdom. Dogs have even been shown to be pessimistic: When a group of canines in one study learned that a bowl placed on one side of the room contained a treat and a bowl on the other side contained nothing, some of the dogs just sat there when the empty bowl was placed in the center of the room; they figured it was empty and didn’t waste their time. These same dogs evinced what researchers said was a similar pessimistic attitude when their masters left for work: They were more likely to howl and tear up the couch when their owner disappeared, possibly because they didn’t believe their master would return.

Most, if not all, dog owners would be very familiar with many of the behavioural traits that Marc Bekoff covers.  Take this next aspect, for instance:

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.

From the above, it was but a short step, in web-search terms, to discover the Duke Canine Cognition Center at Duke University.

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Duke Canine Cognition Center

The Duke Canine Cognition Center (DCCC) is dedicated to the study of dog psychology. Our goal is to understand the flexibility and limitations of dog cognition. In doing so, we gain a window into the mind of animals as well as the evolution of our own species. We can also apply our knowledge of dog cognition to improving programs in which dogs are bred and trained to help humans (i.e. service dogs for the disabled, etc.).

We study dog cognition by inviting dog owners living in the vicinity of Duke University (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) to volunteer their pet dog(s) to play fun problem solving games where they can win treats (food or toys). The Duke Canine Cognition Center has the highest acceptance rate and cheapest tuition at Duke! So join hundreds of others and sign up today so that your dog can help us gain an even better understanding of our very best friends.

Then from there, the discovery of Brian Hare:

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Brian Hare is the director of the above Duke Canine Cognition Center, the co-author of The Genius of Dogs, and co-founder of Dognition.

So will leave it there for today but all this clearly offers us much to browse and learn about our truly best friend!

Reference:

1. David Grimm is a deputy news editor at Science and the author of the new book “Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship With Cats and Dogs.

http://www.amazon.com/Citizen-Canine-Evolving-Relationship-Cats/dp/1610391330/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1400593725&sr=8-1&keywords=david+grimm

Dogs really are smarter!

Fascinating research coming out of Duke University

This Post was stimulated by a link sent to me by Chris Snuggs, who will be joining the author’s team at Learning from Dogs in due course.

The link was to an article published in Time Magazine on September 21st and is available in their online version.

Brian Hare of Duke
Brian Hare of Duke

The article is about the extraordinary social skills that have been developed by dogs over the millennia that they have been associated with man.  It featured Brain Hare (sort of seems an appropriate name!) Assistant Professor, Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke.

The article is also rather timely as only a few days ago, there was a Post on this Blog about the befriending of a man with a wild wolf, or was it the other way around!

Back to the Time magazine article,

“Understanding a pointed finger may seem easy, but consider this: while humans and canines can do it naturally, no other known species in the animal kingdom can. Consider too all the mental work that goes into figuring out what a pointed finger means: paying close attention to a person, recognizing that a gesture reflects a thought, that another animal can even have a thought.”

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