Writer's Blog

Do Microchips Have a Negative Effect on Canine Behavior and Learning?

“In recent years, there has been a massive introduction of equipment that emits electromagnetic fields in an enormous range of new frequencies, modulations and intensities. Since living organisms have only recently found themselves immersed in this new and increasingly ubiquitous environment, they have not had an opportunity to adapt to it.” — Allan Frey, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, 1993. Behavioral Anomalies A few years ago I was speaking to a client of mine about some of the problems he’s been having with his bearded collie pup. This man is very smart. He’s a semi-retired college professor, and has raised several dogs of this breed over the last thirty years.

Are Dogs Really Smarter Than Chimps?

Canine Smarts or Self-Emergent Behavior? Originally published in different form on October 26, 2011 at PsychologyToday.com. "Hello, Doggie!" In recent years researchers in the field of what I like to call dognitive science seem to have made some tremendous insights into canine intelligence and cognition, some of them real, some imaginary, but all very interesting nonetheless. Dogs are amazing animals. They have an ability to read us like no other species can. Sometimes they know more about us than we know about ourselves. According to research done by primatologist Brian Hare, dogs also score higher on certain so-called “mind-reading” tests than wolves and chimpanzees, where the goal is to s

Isn't it Time We Eliminated the Concept of Dominance in Dogs and Wolves

Why Do Some Scientists and Dog Trainers Still Hang On to the Idea of Dominance? Wolves, Hanging Out: Which Is the Most Dominant? Dr. Roger Abrantes is a well-known figure in the dog training world. He holds PhDs in Evolutionary Biology and Ethology. He is the author to 17 books, written in English, German, Spanish, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Italian, and Czech, and is one of the most versatile ethologists in the world. In his blog post, “Dominance: Making Sense of Nonsense,” Dr. Abrantes proposes that we stop denying that dominance exists in dogs and wolves, and set out to remedy the “nonsense” by a) demonstrating that dominance does exist, b) establishing that if dominance exists in wolv

Teach Your Dog to Love Bad Weather!

Does Your Dog Hate or Love the Rain and Snow? Go Home? I Love This Stuff! A common complaint I hear from dog owners is that their dogs refuse to walk in the rain or snow. Some dogs can be perfectly well-behaved and well-trained, but any inclement weather changes things dramatically. A lot of people just accept this as part of their dog’s “personality,” figuring there’s nothing they can do about it. Is that really true? I don’t think so. Do wolves refuse to go hunting when the weather’s bad? Do all dogs automatically hate the cold and snow and sleet and rain? No! So what can you do if your dog hates the rain and snow? Simple. Change the context! One of the primary rules of dog training is tha

Flow and the Art of Dog Training

There Are at Least Three, Not Just Two Forms of Training for Pet Dogs In the Flow The Three Main Methods of Dog Training Most people think there are only two types of training for pet dogs—dominance and positive reinforcement—but there is actually a third form called drive training. In the current marketplace drive training is the least understood and the least used with pet dogs, yet it’s the most effective, and it’s the method most often used to train working dogs: drug and bomb detection dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, military working dogs, and police dogs. So what is drive training, exactly, how does it work, and why isn’t it being more widely used for training pet dogs? Before we get int

An Open Letter to New York Dog Trainers, Part 2

Dog Training For the 21st Century The Law of Effect In a blog post, written a while back, Dr. Ian Dunbar wrote: “Edward Lee Thorndike showed that behavior is modified by its consequences and in 1905, he published his Law of Effect, basically stating: Any behavior followed by pleasant consequences will increase in frequency and be more likely to occur in the future, whereas any behavior followed by unpleasant consequences will decrease in frequency and be less likely to occur in the future. The notion of binary feedback is the quintessence of learning theory. The Law of Effect was a wonderful start but as theory was put to practice in education and training, something went very wrong along th

How Stress Adversely Affects Learning

Why Is It Easier for "Submissive" Dogs to Solve "The Detour Test?" “Everything I ever said about dogs was wrong.” —Konrad Lorenz Deconstructing Myths and Misconceptions My primary goal for this blog is to deconstruct some of the major myths and misconceptions I think people have about canine behavior in general and dog training in particular. There are a lot of dogs whose lives, I think, could be greatly improved if we only understood things from their unique point of view. To my way of thinking one of the biggest myths is the idea that dogs form dominance hierarchies based on rank and status. So imagine my surprise and delight to find a scientific study that proves my point exactly, though

Why Dogs Pull on the Leash, Part 2

Why do women dominate the training landscape in America? “We invented civilization to impress our girlfriends.” —Orson Welles Dr. Stanley Coren wrote recently at PsychologyToday.com: “Why is it that women tend to dominate the field of companion dog training? Unfortunately the scientific literature is not very helpful on this point. Perhaps one hint ... comes from a study by Deborah Wells and Peter Hepper who are psychologists at the Queens University of Belfast in Northern Ireland. Their study was published in [1999] in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.” Coren goes on to say that “This study was rather str

Why Dogs Pull on the Leash

A Common Behavior in Dogs, Seen From a Neo-Freudian Perspective? I was inspired to revive this post by a recent article, written by positive trainer Eileen Anderson, concerning what's commonly known as the opposition reflex, which in dogs manifests as a tendency to pull in the opposite direction when they're pushed into a sit position, for instance, or feel any tension or pressure on the collar. Anderson rightly questions the terminology: is it really a reflex?. Anderson writes, “Reflex sounds like they pull because they can’t help it.” I would argue that dogs, in fact, can’t help it because it’s Newtonian physics, meaning the dog is put off balance physically and is simply attempting to reg

Do Dogs Have a Theory of Mind?

If Dogs Can’t Think, How Do They Know What We’re Thinking? Dogs are amazing animals. They have an ability to read us like no other species can. Sometimes they know more about us than we know about ourselves. They also score higher on certain so-called “mind-reading” tests than chimpanzees, where the goal is to see which animal can more reliably follow a visual cue given by a human being points at or even looks at an object. Dogs can learn to do this quite easily, chimps can’t. “Dogs are more skillful than great apes at a number of tasks in which they must read human communicative signals indicating the location of hidden food. In this study, we found that wolves who were raised by humans do

Do Dogs Experience Grief?

And Is There a Difference Between Grief and Feelings of Loss? Originally published in slightly different form on September 1, 2011 at PsychologyToday.com. The popular website, IFL Science, recently posted a piece on grief in dogs “Why Do Dogs Sometimes Wait for Years by the Graves of Their Owners?” featuring stories told by Dr. Stanley Coren. One of the stories Coren tells is about Hawkeye, a Labrador retriever who reportedly attended his master's funeral in 2011. There were, at the time, a few misunderstandings in the media on how and why Hawkeye happened to be there, misunderstandings that I attempted to rectify in a post I wrote for PsychologyToday.com. Here's that post: A video, which or

How Wolves Hunt Bison & Why Dogs "Steal" Food

Why Do Most Dognitive Scientists See Canine Behavior Through a Human Lens? Staring Contest? Wolves, Buffalo, and The Circle of Life In a 2013 episode of Nature—“Cold Warriors: Wolves and Buffalo”—wildlife filmmaker Jeff Turner used both land and aerial cameras to get some spectacular footage of the daily lives of a pack of wolves living in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park, which straddles the border between Alberta and British Columbia and is 5 times the size of Yellowstone. Toward the end of the film, the pack is attempting to hunt a herd of buffalo. Their usual technique is to find the smallest or weakest member and separate it from the herd. But there don’t seem to be any calves or ag

Why Do Some Dogs Act "Sneaky" When Stealing Food?

If Dogs "Steal" Food Does That Automatically Mean They Have a Theory of Mind? I've Got a Case of the Munchies—I Hope No One's Looking... Perspective Taking? In a recent post here I discussed a 2013 study which purports to show that dogs only steal food when the lights are off. It was based on several previous research projects designed to determine if dogs have the ability to entertain points-of-view other than their own—in other words, the capacity to see things from another dog's or person's perspective which is also referred to as having a Theory of Mind, a theoretical construct used by cognitive researchers. In 2010 article on his blog at PsychologyToday.com, Dr. Marc Bekoff says that “d

How and Why Do Dogs Exhibit the "Play Bow?"

Conscious Intent or the Unconscious Expression of Emotion? Linda Case is a science writer and clicker trainer. She writes a popular blog titled “The Science Dog.” In a recent post, Case wrote about a new study on play in dogs, one of the best studies I’ve come across in years. For the most part, the conclusions drawn by the researchers are quite good. This is the only thing that seemed questionable to me: “More than 98 percent, virtually all, of the play bows occurred when the two dogs were within each others’ visual fields, providing strong support for the hypothesis that play bowing is an intentional visual signal that dogs only use when they know that their partner can see them and respon

Do Dogs Have a Theory of Mind? Part 2

Field of Vision vs Line of Sight What People Notice That Dogs Don’t, What Dogs Notice That People Don’t Theory of mind is a scientific construct developed by David Premack and Guy Woodruff. There are essentially three levels. The first level is the capacity to know that other beings have the same sensory abilities that you do, which carries with it the capacity to realize that others may also see, hear, feel and experience things differently from the way you do. One example might be pointing out to a friend that they have a smudge on their cheek. If the smudge is on their right cheek you might touch the same spot on your left cheek—as if you were her mirror image—and your friend will usuall

Do Dogs Have a Theory of Mind?

If Dogs Can't Think, How Do They Know What We're Thinking? Dognitive scientist Brian Hare's new book is getting some press these days. There was a recent piece in the New York Times on his work showing that dogs will follow where a human points while chimps not only won't, but can't seem to learn how to. Alexandra Horowitz of Barnard College was quoted in the Times article: “To me, part of being a dog scientist is acknowledging up front how little we know about their cognition. Science has just begun to investigate the dog mind, and our current understanding is minimal. It would be honest to admit how mysterious this other mind really is.” I don't think it's all that mysterious. I just t

Are "Calming Signals" a Deliberate Form of Communication?

Or Unconscious Expressions of Stress? Lip Licking Is Often an Indicator of Stress Dogs & Humans, Similarities & Differences Dogs and humans share certain commonalities. Both species started as group predators who hunted animals larger and more dangerous than themselves. In fact dogs, wolves, and humans are the only land mammals who have this characteristic. (Some members of the dolphin family do too.) However, there are there are three abilities that set human beings apart from most other animals, including dogs 1) A sense of self-and-other (or Theory of Mind). 2) A linear sense of time, including mental time travel. 3) The ability to think symbolically (through words and language).

Why Do Dogs "Hide" Their Poop?

Evolutionary Strategy or Gut Feeling? Two Opposing Theories A recent article from The Dodo attempts to explain why some dogs scratch at the dirt or grass after they poop. One theory, explained by Dr. Brittany Jaeger, a veterinarian from Tampa, Florida, is that they’re covering their eliminations so that other imagined, hypothetical animals, who may or may not come along later, won’t be able to find them. “It’s an evolutionary response designed to help dogs hide from potential predators. They do it to cover their tracks so that other animals won't know they've been there.” In the same article, an opposing theory is put forth by Dr. Robert Proietto, a veterinarian working in New York City. Pro

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© 2016 by Lee Charles Kelley.