Dog Days of Summer: Communication & Ritualization

Adapted from pages 98-100 of The Dog:

It is beyond question that animal communication is a complex phenomenon that often gives the impression that the observed behavior is brought about by high-level cognitive mechanisms. Therefore, it is no wonder that, when thinking of animal communication in general and dogs’ communication skills in particular, one can fall into the trap of anthropomorphism and endow animals with human-like mental abilities.

Communication is an interactive process during which a signaler displays and a receiver responds to a signal. Signals are perceivable behaviors (or bodily features) that have the potential to change the behavior of a receiver in a way that is beneficial to the signaler, not excluding benefits on the part of the receiver.

A dog being trained

Dogs readily attend to human-given cues, and they show a particular preference for face-to-face interactions and eye contact with humans. But their attention toward humans depends on their socialization and relationship. Photo credit: michaelheim, Shutterstock

Communicative signals passing through various sensory processes (visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile) may evolve from preexisting behaviors that already have some value to the potential receivers. If the receiver’s response evoked by such informative behavior is beneficial to the signaler, then, on the evolutionary time scale, the behavior becomes gradually transformed into a communicative signal by increasing conspicuousness, stereotypy, and separation from its original function. This process is called evolutionary ritualization, during which the behavior evolves to a signal that elicits the most appropriate response from the receiver.

Although the original function of hair bristling is to regulate body temperature, hair bristles on the back and shoulders also make dogs appear stronger and bigger than they really are. Virtual body size is an important informing cue in conflicts, and thus hair bristling has become ritualized as a communicative signal indicating an aggressive behavioral state that is produced in a wide variety of contexts.

Ritualization may also take place at a developmental timescale. This latter process is called ontogenetic ritualization, during which individuals mutually shape their behaviors over repeated instances of social interactions and the signaling function of certain behaviors is shaped through individual learning.

The Dog: A Natural History
By Ádám Miklósi

As one of the oldest domesticated species, selectively bred over millennia to possess specific behaviors and physical characteristics, the dog enjoys a unique relationship with humans. More than any other animal, dogs are attuned to human behavior and emotions, and accordingly play a range of roles in society, from police and military work to sensory and emotional support. Selective breeding has led to the development of more than three hundred breeds that, despite vast differences, still belong to a single species, Canis familiaris.

The Dog is an accessible, richly illustrated, and comprehensive introduction to the fascinating natural history and scientific understanding of this beloved species. Ádám Miklósi, a leading authority on dogs, provides an appealing overview of dogs’ evolution and ecology; anatomy and biology; behavior and society; sensing, thinking, and personality; and connections to humans.

Illustrated with some 250 color photographs, The Dog begins with an introductory overview followed by an exploration of the dog’s prehistoric origins, including current research about where and when canine domestication first began. The book proceeds to examine dogs’ biology and behavior, paying particular attention to the physiological and psychological aspects of the ways dogs see, hear, and smell, and how they communicate with other dogs and with humans. The book also describes how dogs learn about their physical and social environments and the ways they form attachments to humans. The book ends with a section showcasing a select number of dog breeds to illustrate their amazing physical variety.

Beautifully designed and filled with surprising facts and insights, this book will delight anyone who loves dogs and wants to understand them better.

This post is part of a series, explore additional posts here<< Dog Days of Summer: BarkingThe Dog Days of Summer: How Dogs Play >>