Writer's Blog

Canine PTSD: Its Causes, Signs & Symptoms

How Can You Determine If Your Dog Has PTSD? Originally published in slightly different form on August 8, 2012 at PsychologyToday.com. “Reactivity” in Dogs I got the following email message the other day from a company called Dogwise. They publish and sell books about reward-based dog training. “Probably the hottest topic in dog behavior and training circles right now is reactivity. You may never be able to ‘cure’ a dog who is reactive—it’s hard to counter poor socialization and/or genetics—but there are a number of ways you may be able to control it ... some of the time.” My first reaction was to the word “reactive.” I’ve never understood how or why that term is being applied to behavior pr

Clever Crows & Frisbee Dogs

Are Crows Really Smarter Than 7-Year Old Kids? Boosters & Scoffers, Believers & Skeptics A new study claims that New Caledonian crows have the ability to understand cause and effect at the same level as, or possibly higher than, second-graders. (“Using the Aesop’s Fable Paradigm to Investigate Causal Understanding of Water Displacement by New Caledonian Crows,” Plos One, 3/26/14.) First, a little background. New Caledonia is an archipelago located in the Coral Sea, west of Australia. The crows inhabiting the islands are one of the current “it” species in cognitive science research (along with dogs and chimps) because of their ability to use tools (among other things). Like all crows, they’re

Empathy in Rats, Altruism in Wolves?

Empathy or Communication via DNA? Originally published in slightly different form on January 3, 2012 at PsychologyToday.com. Conscious Awareness or Hard-Wired Emotions? A new study, published in the December issue of Science Magazine, suggests that lab rats—who, like dogs, are social animals—may have possibly exhibited evidence of both empathy and altruism. Let me just say right off the bat that I think the value of this study is somewhat negligible. For one thing, the new science on empathy and altruism tells us that “we’re hard-wired” for such behaviors. Certainly feeling empathy may be an unconscious, hardwired response to another’s suffering. But I don’t think one can act in a truly

Canine PTSD: No. 4—Oddy & Penny

Why Do Some Dogs Develop PTSD While Others Don’t? Originally published in slightly different form on December 20, 2012 at PsychologyToday.com. PTSD Develops in Different Ways in Different Dogs This is the 4th in a series of case histories of dogs who may have suffered from PTSD, which statistics suggest may be much more common in pet dogs than it is in military dogs. This series of posts is meant to be a helpful diagnostic tool for veterinarians, shelter and rescue workers, as well as dog owners and dog trainers to hopefully prevent more cases of Canine PTSD from going undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated. (A Canine PTSD symptom scale can be found here.) The first case history (of my own do

Canine PTSD: No. 2—Fancy the Boxer

Are Pet Dogs More at Risk for Developing PTSD? Originally published in slightly different form on August 29, 2012 at PsychologyToday.com. Seeing the Forest and the Trees It has become clear in the past year or so that dogs can suffer from PTSD. Most of the media attention has been focused on U.S. military dogs who’ve suffered trauma during wartime deployment. However, military dogs are “a special breed.” They come from hardy stock, chosen for their working character. During training they’re tested to withstand the rigors of combat. It’s rare for a dog who’s afraid of loud noises or is unable to focus on his job under chaotic conditions to ever make it into battle. Bottom line: these are tou

Canine PTSD: No. 3—Noodles

Miniature Dachshund or Incredible Hulk? Originally published in slightly different form on October 3, 2012 at PsychologyToday and on March 1st, 2016 on my Canine PTSD blog. “You don’t want to make me mad. You wouldn’t like me when I’m mad.” — Bruce Banner Three Ways to Diagnose PTSD in Rescue Dogs This series of blog posts is intended to show the different ways that pet dogs can show symptoms of PTSD, and how to determine if your dog, or a dog you’re working with, might have the disorder. It’s also important to know that some rescue dogs may be more at risk than working dogs or military dogs. Another important piece of information is that the brains of patients with PTSD show a signature sim

Canine PTSD: No. 1—Freddie

My Dog Freddie, The King of New York Originally published in slightly different form on July 10, 2012 at PsychologyToday.com. “PTSD, depression, and other psychiatric disorders cause what is called ‘negative neuroplasticity,’ including activation of abnormal circuitry in the brain, and strengthening of those circuits over time. They also cause shrinkage … and decreased connectivity between parts of the brain.” —David J. Hellerstein, M.D. How Common Is PTSD in Pet Dogs? Post traumatic stress disorder is probably much more common in dogs than most people realize. We tend to think that it’s only found in military service personnel, including canine members of the armed services. But it turns o

Wolves, Scrub Jays, & the Prickly Feeling of Being Watched

How do animals know when they’re being watched? Tommy Lee Jones as Gary Gilmore in the “The Executioner's Song.“ Originally published in slightly different form on July 26, 2012 at PsychologyToday.com. The Eyes of a Killer The world is full of prey and predators. Each has to develop tricks to “outwit” the other. Instead of spinning webs, some spiders hide under leaves to lie in wait for their prey. A cuttlefish can instantaneously change its pigmentation to blend in with the background, either to avoid predators or to sneak up on its prey. Most mammalian predators “stalk” their prey, getting low to the ground and holding perfectly still whenever the prey looks in their direction. Do animals

Dogs and Humans, A Love Story

How Did Dogs and Humans First “Fall in Love?” Originally published in slightly different form on January 12, 2012 at PsychologyToday.com. In a recent article, Dr. Stanley Coren (author of The Intelligence of Dogs) asks, “Do dogs love people more than they love other dogs,” and tells us his article was sparked by the rediscovery of a study showing that dogs seem to prefer human companionship. [1] Humans as Psychological Buffers for Dogs? The first sentence of that study discusses how some dogs feel when left alone. “Brief involuntary separation of an individual from an object of emotional attachment evokes behavioral and physiological reactions.” The authors then go on to show that when

Deconstructing Dominance in Dogs.

Do We Really Need the Concept of Dominance? How Dominance Still Dominates Our Belief Systems of Dog Behavior 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 a recent 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 wolves it also exis

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness

Holding a Mirror Up to Science and Nature Throwing Water on His Enthusiasm When “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness” was made on July 12th last year, I refrained from making any critical comments in deference to Marc Bekoff, my (then) colleague at PsychologyToday.com. I didn’t want to throw any water on his enthusiasm by writing a more realistic assessment (such as the one found here). What is the declaration? You can read the entire document here: (it’s only 2 pages long). Or read the actual declaration below: “The absence of a neo-cortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neu

“Bark Therapy” for Dogs With PTSD?

Like Talk Therapy for Humans, Bark Therapy Helps Dogs! Originally published in slightly different form on August 31, 2012 at PsychologyToday.com. How a Sheltie Named Duncan Helped “Cure” My Dog Freddie’s PTSD In 1993, when my Dalmatian Freddie first developed PTSD, he was having daily panic attacks brought on by any number of noises coming from the city streets: the air brakes from a city bus, a loud horn honking, the gate being closed on a beer truck, etc, etc, etc. We lived 4 city blocks from Central Park, where we went every morning so Freddie could play Frisbee or chase sticks. In the park, Freddie was fully alive, and completely happy. But most days it was pure torture to navigate our

Lack of Cooperation Found in Some Wolf Packs

Why Do Levels of “Cooperation” Diminish as Pack Size Increases? Originally published in slightly different form on November 9, 2012 at PsychologyToday.com. Should Game Theory Be Applied to Wolf Pack Behaviors? One area of great interest in current biology is animal altruism and cooperation. These qualities are said to exist at all levels of life, from aggregations of cells to human society. In their paper, “The evolution of cooperation and altruism,” (2006) Lehmann & Keller write, “One of the enduring puzzles in biology and the social sciences is the origin and persistence of intraspecific cooperation and altruism in humans and other species.” Because cooperation and altruism in non-hum

Does “Dominance” Adversely Affect Learning?

Dominance & Subordinance, or Attraction & Resistance? Detour Test Originally published in slightly different form on September 14, 2012 by Lee Charles Kelley at PsychologyToday.com. “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 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

Do Dogs Have a "Mind's Eye?"

Can We Communicate With Dogs Using Mental Images? The Dog’s Visual System One of the ways cognitive scientists describe how the human and animal mind both process visual information is through mental representations or “cognitive maps” of physical objects in their environment. You show the dog a ball. He sees the ball, but how does he see it? Does the dog’s visual system create an internal representation of the ball in his mind? Can a dog also see pictures of things in his mind that lie outside his visual field? For instance, if you throw a ball and it goes under the sofa, you can usually tell from the dog’s behavior that he “knows” the ball is there, even though he can’t see it. But does

Hierarchy Without Dominance?

The Pack as a Flow System? Originally posted on July 22, 2014. Two days before PsychologyToday.com deconstructed my blog for their website, they also pulled this guest post by Kevin Behan, author of Natural Dog Training & Your Dog Is Your Mirror. “It is difficult to resist the idea that general principles underlie non-hierarchical systems, such as ant colonies and brains. And because organizations without hierarchy are unfamiliar, broad analogies between systems are reassuring. But the hope that general principles will explain the regulation of all the diverse complex dynamical systems that we find in nature, can lead to ignoring anything that doesn’t fit a pre-existing model.” —Deborah M. G

Three Reasons Why Dominance Hierarchies Don't Exist In Nature

Do Dogs and Wolves Form Dominance Hierarchies? No! Sorry, Dr. Bekoff, I Stand by What I Wrote—And Here Are 3 Reasons Why “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” —African Proverb Competition vs. Cooperation Dr. Marc Bekoff recently wrote an article here stating, in no uncertain terms, that dominance hierarchies are real. He backed this up by saying that this is the current scientific consensus. I’m not denying that the consensus exists. But it seems to me that we may have been seeing this issue backwards. Another way of looking at it is that members of a wolf pack are not in competition over resources, nor are they seeking biological advantages over one anothe

Can Dogs Make Comparisons?

One of These Things Is Not Like the Others Chaser the Border Collie with Her Owner A recent study at Northwestern University informs us that “babies can think before they can speak.” In the study, 7-month-old infants were able to understand what researchers describe as the simplest and most basic of abstract relations: the levels of sameness or difference between two objects, a key cognitive ability underlying human intelligence, and one that differentiates us from all other animals including great apes. The test was quite simple. “Infants were shown pairs of items, two Elmo dolls—or two different—an Elmo doll and a toy camel—until their ‘looking-time’ declined.” This decline in the a

Charles Darwin & The Dominance Meme, Part 3

Does Human Observation Create Dominance Hierarchies? “Among Thelma Rowell’s baboons, young male infants get more attention from the males than do young females, a fact that has never been described in any other baboons. But the strangest thing comes out when Alison Jolly compares the social behavior of these baboons with those that have hitherto been observed in all studies. In Rowell’s troop, males were extremely peaceful: they formed a coherent cohort, “constantly aware of each other’s movements, but with scarcely any aggressive interactions.” --Belgian Scientist Vinciane Despret, 2010. The Baby and the Bathwater Some scientists have tried, with little progress, to dismiss the idea of domi

Attraction, Resistance, and a Feeling of Flow

Jellyfish, Motorcycles, and Diving Dogs. The Nature World News website recently touted the fact that a new laboratory study suggests that a species of jellyfish has been seen “deliberately” catching fish, this despite the fact that jellyfish don’t have brains or a central nervous system. According to lead researcher, Robert Courtney, “They’re using their tentacles and nematocyst clusters like experienced fishers use their lines and lures.” He goes on, “The nematocyst clusters look like a series of bright pearls, which the jellyfish twitches to attract the attention of its prey, like a series of fishing lures. It’s a very deliberate and selective form of prey capture.” Interesting, huh? S

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© 2016 by Lee Charles Kelley.