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.

The Dog Days of Summer: How Dogs Play

Adapted from pages 92-95 of The Dog:

Rough and tumble is a form of play-fighting for dogs and only rarely escalates to real conflict. To ensure harmless play, dogs need to get the necessary experience as puppies. Photo credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock

In social species, play represents one of the most complex interactions between two members of a group. The behavior elements displayed during play are actions borrowed from various other behavioral contexts (including agonistic and predatory), but they are modified versions of the original actions and can be combined in novel ways. At the higher level of complexity, during play the partners need to cooperate and adjust their actions in order to achieve their common goal of playing together.

Social play appears to serve many functions in juveniles, improving physical fitness and motor skills, and helping the puppy to learn social skills such as bite inhibition. Social play allows dogs to practice and combine actions they will use later in their lives, and in general play also prepares them for the unexpected. In dogs (and wolves) social play is not limited to juvenile individuals—adults play too— so one main role of play is to maintain the social cohesion of the group.

One of the biggest questions in the study of dyadic play is whether intentional descriptions are appropriate when we interpret the dog’s behavior. Play can take many forms, from simple learned play, such as ball fetching, to pretend play, where the dog displays signals indicating an inner state (aggression, for example) that is not real, such as when the dog pretends he is defending an object.

Play signals have several functions: They clearly distinguish such interactions from real competitive situations, and they serve to initiate play and also to synchronize the actions of the partners. Play signals can be highly variable and can include open mouth display, high-pitched barking, bounding over to the other dog in an exaggerated manner, a bowed head, pawing, or exaggerated retreat. Barking used as a play signal is specific to dogs; it is absent in the play of other canines.

The best-known, highly stereotyped play signal in dogs is the play-bow. It not only conveys the playful intent but it is also used after ambiguous behaviors (such as a playful bite or snap) to display the dog’s willingness to continue the interaction. When the play partners are familiar with each other, bows most often occur after a brief pause with the aim of reinitiating play.

It was once assumed that competitive games increase agonistic tendencies in behavior, suggesting an effect of play activity on later sociability with partners. It turned out, however, that competitive games do not increase aggressive tendencies in real-life situations. On the contrary, it seems that the type of game dogs prefer to play depends on whether they have a cooperative or competitive personality.

Over time dog and owners develop a routine of games, and dogs do not generalize these behavior routines to other, functionally different situations. Thus, it is very important, starting during puppy age, that the dog gets many opportunities to play with other dogs and also humans. Play is one of the best ways to improve the physical and social skills of dogs, and it also facilitates people’s understanding of their companion. A day without play is a lost day!

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.

The Dog Days of Summer: Social Behavior & Hunting

Adapted from pages 70-71 of The Dog:

Being highly social and living in families is a special feature of canines. The basic theme is the same—differences are only quantitative. Family dogs have inherited most social traits present in their wild relatives, but they also need to learn about the peculiarities of social interaction. This is especially important if many dogs are living together in a human family.

Typically, two or three generations live together in a wolf pack, while groups of jackals and coyotes are usually smaller. The actual organization depends on many factors, and in wolves it is not infrequent for such family packs to join together and form even larger packs of 20–30 individuals. The genetic relationship among the members ensures that pack life is usually peaceful because its success depends both on the parents and the survival of the offspring. Thus, the oldest male that is the father of the younger pack mates is closer to a leader who has the most experience and takes the most decisions. But in the end his interests are likely to concur with those of the family.

When wolves reach two or three years of age, they leave the pack to establish a new family. Given that a specific area is covered by territories of other wolves, this task requires courage and experience. It is not surprising that only a few wolves make it. This is one feature that is not typically present in family dogs because most of them prefer to stay with their human family. Free-ranging dogs disperse at various ages, but they are also more easily accepted by other packs.

wolves

Aggressive interactions may take place within a family pack but they are usually followed by some form of reconciliation. Photo credit: Popova Valeriya, Shutterstock

Hunting is a central activity in all canines, but the most complex hunts involving large numbers of individuals have been observed mainly in wolves living in the far north of Canada and Alaska. It is assumed that the typical family size of wolves is also determined by the size of their prey. Wolves live in larger packs if they have to hunt elk or muskoxen, but will hunt alone if their prey is smaller.

Hunting does not consist merely of locating and chasing prey. Wolves need to know their sometimes vast territories very well—where and when prey is moving— and to be able to organize hunts over a range of 12–40 miles (20–65 km). Wolves have been observed to make short cuts or even ambush for a surprise attack. Free-ranging dogs rarely hunt in groups, for simpler tactics suffice to find food near human settlements.

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.

The Dog Days of Summer: How Dogs Develop

All summer long, Princeton Nature wants to celebrate man’s best friend. With our new blog series, we’ll be sharing some of the most interesting facts about dogs, as found in Ádám Miklósi’s The Dog: A Natural History.

Adapted from pages 84-85 of the text:

Dog puppies are born blind and deaf; they are not able to walk, can barely crawl, and do not survive without their mother’s care. In the subsequent weeks and months, they grow rapidly in size and develop the abilities and skills they need as adults. The size of newborn puppies differs depending on the size of the breed, so the duration of the physical development of dog puppies varies greatly, depending on the size the dog reaches as an adult. For very small dogs it may take approximately 6 months to reach their adult size, while for giant breeds it may take 18 months. There are also differences in the timing of development between breeds, with some skills and behaviors emerging much sooner in some breeds than in others.

A corgi and pups cuddling. Photo credit: Grigorita Ko, Shutterstock

From birth to death canines undergo a series of changes in their physical, ecological, and social environment. For example, a few weeks after birth, from the safety of the small and confined space of the litter, puppies are gradually exposed to richer and more stimulating surroundings. Puppies learn to recognize individuals, to form affiliative relationships with some, and to avoid others. Dogs’ social environment is particularly rich and complex because it includes not only conspecifics but also members of another species: humans.

It is well known that early experiences can greatly affect the later behavior of dogs. In some early experiments researchers deprived dog puppies at various ages of human contact. Dogs that had never experienced humans during their early development showed marked avoidance toward them, and this behavior could not be alleviated by subsequent socialization. This explains why many feral dogs that do not spend time with humans as puppies keep avoiding people later in life. However, dogs are special because even a very little social exposure, up to a few hours per day, may develop their preference for humans.

During sensitive periods the puppy is exceptionally quick to learn about particular stimuli in its environment. The experience gained during this period is thought to have a great impact on future behavior. If the dog misses specific inputs, it may develop behavior malformations. Lack of experience with other dogs may lead to inappropriate behavior, including fear or aggression when encountering a conspecific.

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.