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Lindsay Wood and Alexandra Horowitz

I got lucky.

Lindsay Wood, the Director of Animal Training and Behavior at the Human Society of Boulder Valley (HSBV) (Read Lindsay’s bio here. She’s amazing!), has been observing and assisting Nan Arthur, our instructor, in the Karen Pryor Academy class in which Sadie and I are enrolled. Final assessments are today Monday, September 26. Yikes!

A few weeks ago I signed up too late to attend a very special HSBV event: Lindsay interviewing her beloved mentor, Alexandra Horowitz of Inside of A Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know fame, in the style of James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio, another favorite.

I was wait-listed. Not surprisingly the event filled to capacity in a matter of hours of it being announced.

I heard Alexandra speak for the first time last year at APDT in Atlanta. I didn’t want her to stop talking. She’s eloquent, evocative, charming, empathic, and very, very smart. (Alexandra’s currently a professor at Barnard College. Read about her and her work at the Canine Cognition Lab here.)

During lunch at the previous week-end KPA class that preceded the interview by a few days, Lindsay fretted about what questions to ask and how to ask them. While I understood her stage fright, I knew Lindsay had nothing to worry about. She’s one of the most poised women I’ve ever met.

I dissed myself for dilly-dallying instead of registering.

Then manna landed in my inbox. At the last minute, someone cancelled and I was next in line. I accepted the invitation and hit ‘reply.’

I arrived early to attend a reception in Alexandra’s honor where I enjoyed champagne and a dash of dishing about the dog world with Roxanne Hawn and Hilary Lane, two blogging buddies I hadn’t seen in ages.

Lindsay and Alexandra were delightful together–mutually admiring student and professor, sharing thoughts and reflections about the love of their lives—dogs. The interview was pitch-perfect.

The easy ebb and flow of their conversation carried me along. Then, over halfway through the interview, I had a V-8 moment. I could have been blogging about this!

I’ve been so out of blogging mode since the beginning of the KPA course in May, I forgot to take my laptop. I didn’t even have a pen. I had to borrow one in order to write a few notes in the margins of the program.

Let’s begin at the end. You might be familiar with James Lipton’s now famous ten questions with which he concludes every interview. Lindsay did the same with Alexandra. Unfortunately, I remember only two of the questions—Alexandra’s answer to the first one is Lindsay’s personal favorite. Alexandra’s reply to the second one is mine.

“What is your favorite word?”


Pumpernickel, or Pump for short, was Alexandra’s dog who lovingly graced many pages in Inside of a Dog.

“What is your favorite sound?”

“My dog snuffling as he smells my face when I come home.”

It doesn’t get more onomatopoetic than that. I wish Sadie was a snuffler, but, alas, she is not.

Lipton doesn’t ask this question, but I’m glad Lindsay did: What is the biggest fallacy in our understanding of dogs?

“That dogs form hierarchical packs and you need to be on top.”

On dogs having a theory of mind:

Alexandra watched hours of dogs at play in slow motion (30 frames per second) for her dissertation.

“Dogs do just enough attention getting behavior to get the attention of the other dog. They match their attention getting behavior to the status of the other dog.”

“What a dog is communicating to another dog, and what the other dog seems to understand: ‘Whatever I say is untrue because I just did a play-bow, so if I bite or growl, it’s just play. I didn’t really mean it.’”

In research with Marc Bekoff, she identified “atmospheric” cues between dogs. “Dogs do a play-bow before a hip slam. This suggests the dog is communicating to another mind, that of the other dog.”

For more on Alexandra’s thoughts on dogs having a theory of mind and her critique of the research I wrote about in the previous two blog posts – here and here – read this by Alexandra, “Theory of Mind in Dogs? Examining method and concept.”

On anthropomorphisms:

“We should not reject anthropomorphisms out of hand, but consider them hypotheses worthy of investigation.” (See Alexandra’s research on the ‘guilty look’ here and “Naturalizing Anthropomorphism: Behavioral Prompts to Our Humanizing of Animals,” an article she co-authored with Marc Bekoff.)

My favorite quote:

“We need to be asking: What is the problem for my dog? Not: What is the problem for ME? Why is my dog not heeling on the left? Why does she keep going to the right? Maybe there are better smells on the right. Maybe the dog is right pawed. Just as with most people, most dogs have a preferred paw.”

Every time I listen to Alexandra speak, I’m left with this desire: I want what she has. I want to intelligently and empathically imagine myself into the inside of my dog.

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The bad news? I’m Border Collie busy and just didn’t time to meet my Thursday (6/20/11) publishing deadline for The Wag.

The good news? I’m glad I didn’t post on Thursday. Yesterday I received my July issue of Whole Dog Journal in which Pat Miller covers highlights from the recent 21st conference of Professional Animal Behavior Associates (PABA), May 14-15, 2011 at the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario. The theme of the entire conference was “Exploring the Dog’s Mind”!

Check out Pat’s article, “How Do Dog’s Show Emotions: Some thoughts on — and recognition of — canine cognition and emotions.”

That fits nicely with our current theme here at The Wag–canine cognition and more.

Last week I promised links to institutes around the world where scholars are researching canine cognition. If you know of any I missed, please leave a comment with a link to the lab or institute!

Here they are in no particular order:

Max Planck Institute (Leipzig, Germany)

For a number of reasons, the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) is a very interesting model for investigating different questions regarding the evolution of cognitive abilities. The fact that dogs have been living with humans for at least 15.000 years may have led to the selection of cognitive abilities by humans or even the co-evolution of dogs’ cognitive abilities with those of humans… . Our research with dogs focuses on the following topics: Human-dog communication; Visual perspective taking; Social learning; Meta-cognitive abilities; Physical cognition.

If you click on the Dog Studies badge (above) you’ll go to the main site for the Max Planck Institute where you will find links to research papers by Dr. Juliane Kaminski, who was featured in the BBC documentary, “The Secret Life of the Dog,” among many other luminaries.

University of Florida Canine Cognition and Behavior Lab (Gainesville, Florida)

Here at the University of Florida we are setting out to answer questions about the behavior and abilities of domestic dogs. Domestic dogs share a unique relationship with humans and through scientific investigation we can gain a better understanding of the characteristics and behaviors that make dogs mans best friend. We are interested in many areas of canine behavior and cognition including: Responsiveness to human gestures; sensitivity to attentional state; social behavior and development; imitation and social learning; modes of communication; human-canine interaction; learning and discrimination; temperament; and problem solving, among others.

Click here for a list of publications by Dr. Monique Udell, Dr. Clive Wynne and others.

Duke Canine Cognition Center (Duke University, Durham, North Carolina)

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).

Click here for publications by Dr. Brian Hare and others.

Clever Dog Lab (University of Vienna, Austria)

Domestic dogs, since their divergence from wolves about 15,000 years ago, have become an integral part of the human communities. They are not only reared but also selected and bred to cooperate and communicate with humans, to predict their behaviour and to learn from them. For those outstanding collaborative capacities in dogs, that distinguish them from other animals, there may be three possible sources:

·      Firstly, they may have inherited a tendency for cooperative and synchronous behaviour from theirwolf-like ancestors… .This ability might have enabled them to easily adapt to their new, human social groups.

·      Secondly, during the course ofdomestication, dogs seem to have developed novel capabilities… which enable them to engage in cooperative and communicative situations with humans … .

·      Thirdly, in their individual life, dogs typically gain experiences and are trained to act cooperatively and in adaptation to human behaviour.

Research at the Clever Dog Lab aims at studying the problem-solvingand learning abilities of dogs, their perception of the environment and their relationships to humans.

Maybe you recall the study about “inequity aversion” in dogs. Scholars at the Clever Dog Lab collaborated with others at the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution & Cognition Research (Altenberg, Austria) on that study. You can read it here.

The Family Dog Project (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary)

The Family Dog Project was established in 1994 as the first research group dedicated to investigate the evolutionary and ethological foundations of dog-human relationship.

The project was initiated by Professor Emeritus Vilmos Csányi together with Antal Dóka, Ádám Miklósi, and József Topál at the Department of Ethology at the Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary.

We hypothesised that dogs have evolved to survive in the anthropogenic environment, and our investigations aim at revealing the contribution of humans and dogs to this long-standing partnership. Thus we are not interested solely in the mental abilities of dogs but in all aspects of human and dog behaviour that have strengthened this bond, and may even expand it further. Surprisingly, in our experience this research does not only reveal important insights on dogs but also on us, people. …

Topics of major interest:

This is a terrific  site! Click on any of the links above for research articles in pdf format.

That’s it for this week! Enjoy!

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I finished my KPA writing assignment on cueing, in which I suggested solutions to Polly’s perplexing problem with her peripatetic parrot, just in time to meet my self-imposed Weekly Wag publishing deadline.

Be forewarned, it’s geek week at the Wag.

Last week I pointed you to a study by Monique Udell and her colleagues at the University of Florida in which they argued that dogs’ abilities to understand human communication is learned rather than a capacity that dogs are born with due to thousands of years of living along side humans during which dogs were domesticated. By the way, did you know that dogs, or proto-dogs, were the very first animal that humans domesticated? Is that cool or what?

Anyway, among those who take the latter viewpoint is Brain Hare of Duke University Canine Cognition Lab, as many of you probably know. What I’ve been wondering is what Brain and his colleagues think about Monique’s et al’s. research. I love intellectual back and forth among experts in their fields, especially this one ’cause it’s all about dogs! So much can be learned when scholars challenge each others assumptions, methods and interpretations of data.

Well, guess what? I found an article by Brian Hare, et al., that specifically addresses some research that Monique and her colleagues conducted. It’s entitled: “The domestication hypothesis for dog’s skills with human communication: a response to Udell et al (2008) and Wynne et al. (2008).”

Even if the statistics are weed-thick for some, they were for me, there’s still a lot to be gained from Brian’s et al’s. analysis of Udell’s and Wynne’s research methods and findings. Udell and Wynne were kind enough to give Brain and his colleagues their raw data which Brain, et al., re-analyzed. Interestingly, though, perhaps not surprisingly, they arrived at different conclusions from Udell and Wynne,

In the article Brain and his colleagues conclude, among other things, that:

Therefore, even if learning plays a role in the development of these skills, this does not mean that the domestication hypothesis is totally incorrect, or that richer cognitive explanations of dogs’ skills are not warranted.

There’s amazing research going on all over the world on canine learning and cognition, canine/human communication, teasing out the effects of thousands of years of domestication, and more.

I’m gathering a list of the research institutes and links to some of their published research. I’ll share that with you next week.

In the meantime, gotta get back to putting three cues under stimulus control. Lucky for me, Sadie is an eager, tail-wagging happy, forgiving learner.

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