Category Archives: dog behavior

Of Buddy and Back Injuries

I don’t know if my absence from the blog has been noticed, but ‘I’ve been MIA for awhile, suffering from a slipped disc. Besides sapping any creativity, it is darned hard to write when lying on your belly in bed.

The offending item that resulted in my most recent aggravation of my back injury

My infirmity did cause me to think back 10 years when I first injured my back. For the six weeks during my recovery, my young Border collie, Buddy, stayed as if glued to my side. I knew he would have preferred to be out on the ranch herding or exploring, but stay with me he did. Because of his loyalty and devotion, his name became uncannily appropriate.

Buddy has of course, like me, aged in the last 10 years. He injured his own back years ago while jumping over a cattle guard, causing a thoracic disc to project out, contuse his spinal cord, and bring about a prolonged weakness of his hind legs. He is probably 70% recovered now and has continued to perform his ranch duties with a fierce determination.

Buddy when younger

Buddy is now an old dog. Of late when we’ve gone on a walk (always an activity he enjoyed immensely), he has tended to stay behind at the house while Bella and Little Jack walk off with me.

Seems to me Buddy is smart enough to know that the exertion will only aggravate his discomfort and we will, after all, return in short order.

Buddy sleeps more now following his injury

Since most of my time has been spent in my position of relative comfort, that is on my belly in bed, Little Jack and Bella have taken over Buddy’s prior close association. They bookend me on the bed while Buddy lays across the room on his dog bed or underneath my bed. He simply doesn’t have the oomph to jump up on the bed any longer. Instead he seems to delegate this position of responsibility.

Bella on the left and Little Jack on the right

Buddy seems able to accept  changes required by his age and back condition. This lesson is not lost on his pained human companion.

Injuries, such as mine, provide lots of time to think. My friends and family have been wonderfully supportive. This provides more solace than I ever would have imagined.

My dogs also provide wonderful companionship and are rooting for my recovery. While I await a visit with the neurosurgeon, I am closer than ever to achieving recovery from my injury. Loyalty is never sweeter than when it arrives at a time of special need- and on four paws with a wet nose.

Bullying- In humans and Dogs

Bullying has become an important topic in our schools and society. This unfortunate behavior occurs usually when an older or stronger person seeks to intimidate or reduce the significance of another. By doing so the bully tries to achieve an increase in status or sense of worth. Bullying can be quite harmful for the person being bullied and may lead to depression, anxiety and acting out.

Unfortunately I’ve witnessed similar behaviors in my beloved dogs. The shame of it all!

Bella on left and Buddy on the right

 

Little Jack, “Who me bully?”

I’ll describe a few dog behaviors and compare to human bullying as strong similarities exist. Perhaps we may even learn from our canine friends.

I’ve noticed when one of my dogs crosses a cattle-guard that he will stop immediately on the other side, turn, and menace other dogs trying to cross. The dog attempting to cross must gingerly place paws on the metal pipe and concentrate on not falling through. The task requires rapt attention and during the crossing, the crossing dog is vulnerable to such menacing (bullying).

“You just try coming across this cattleguard”

Similarly when one of my dogs goes through a door, he (Bella doesn’t do this) tends to crouch just outside in order to intimidate the following dog. Again the second dog is vulnerable. Why do this at all?

Whereas human bullying arises when the bully needs to establish dominance or elevate his/her often diminished self-esteem, I wonder if dogs are trying to improve their sense of worth or rank in the pack. In the picture below, Jack is trying to bite Buddy in the butt while Buddy is jumping into the pickup. This smacks of bullying if not outright sadism!

I’ve been pondering my observations. My first thought was that almost always a male dog bullies another male dog, and a female dog usually bullies another female dog. Gender plays a role here. Isn’t this gender specificity also true among humans?

When Little Jack or Buddy first cross the cattle-guard or first makes it through the door, the dog on the far side invariably will nip at the dog attempting to exit the house or cross the cattle-guard. By so doing the bully dog establishes primacy,  elevating its status. While this may be viewed as dominance, is it not also a form of bullying?

Likewise, I’ve witnessed Bella engage in bullying toward visiting, female dogs. In these instances the visitors are off their usual turf and appear initially tentative. Bella greets them on arrival by standing aggressively over them and growling at them. She’s not the welcoming hostess at all. The visiting female dog becomes submissive and even may demonstrate submissive peeing. Perhaps this submissiveness provides Bella reassurance that she will not be displaced by the visiting female dog.

Once dominance has been established, Bella appears friendly enough and ceases her earlier bullying behaviors. At this stage the two dogs usually play nicely together. The dogs Bella bullies are typically smaller than she. Here size makes a difference.

Early on in their interactions, I suppose Bella is trying to put them in their subservient places. If on the other hand, a visiting dog is substantially larger and more powerful than Bella, then bullying by Bella never becomes an issue. Makes sense to me and is also what we observe with humans. Certainly relative size of the animal being bullied is another relevant characteristic.

A third observation relates to the age of the dog doing the bullying. While Buddy was a bully early in his life, now in his advanced years he usually acts as if he couldn’t be bothered (except for Little Jack who is trying to displace Buddy). When visiting male dogs come to the ranch, Buddy now pays them little mind. Earlier in his life he would growl at the visiting dogs and do his best to intimidate them. It has been my experience that older dogs, for whatever reason, seem not to bully other dogs to the degree that do younger dogs.

“Okay, I’m not as young as I once was.”

This age factor may coincide with unwillingness to expend energy. It simply may not worth the expenditure of effort. In humans and with advanced age, self-worth has long before become established and secured and may explain the drop off in bullying. Might something like this also be at work with dogs? So perhaps age, size, and within gender bullying are characteristics of my dogs. It seems to me these are also characteristics that usually apply to human bullying as well.

I suppose this means young males and females, be they dogs or humans, must learn to become comfortable with themselves regarding status and rank. Lacking this, the chances for bullying remain. As humans we might wish to elevate the self-worth of a bully in the hope this will reduce the risk for a vulnerable, smaller person. Likewise if a younger person is under great stress, say family problems or personal trauma, an older person might help by counseling him/her or providing other assistance to mitigate the ego-deflating nature of the trauma.

As it relates to dogs, their human friends might be left with expressions of support for and acknowledgement of the worth of the bully dog. A big juicy bone might do the trick but also might precipitate a scuffle! I typically resort to lots of compliments and stroking my dogs in an attempt to signal each is a valued pet.

Do others have ideas in this regard. Are we left with only anti-bullying policies in humans? How can we reduce bullying in both dogs and humans? Would love to hear your thoughts. Please share.

Canine Cooperation

In an earlier blog piece, I wrote of wolves having been reported as smarter than dogs in a teamwork task. While wolves were superior at performing the pull test, I wondered if this degree of cooperation was true for other dog-dog cooperation tasks as well.

The standard pull task required animal teams of two wolves and two dogs (as well as pairs of other animals) to cooperate in order to earn a tasty reward. The experiment was reported in the New York Times. Viewing this video report made me wonder if my dogs ever meaningfully cooperated with each other or did they merely excel in cooperating with their humans.

Many examples of Border collie cooperation during herding tasks exist, some of which have been detailed here previously but these might well be viewed as examples of human/dog cooperation.

Buddy on left and Bella on right. Photo by Ramsey

Since writing an earlier piece about my dogs and how they cooperate with each other, I’ve found another good example. Bella, our female Border collie, has for some time worked as our nighttime door monitor.

What I mean by this is that Buddy will often go to the door at night but fail to bark to signal his desire to go out. Standing quietly at the backdoor, he often goes unnoticed by his sleeping humans. This is especially true as he goes to the room adjacent to our bedroom when Trudy and I are deeply asleep.

“My humans are so slow in sensing Buddy’s plight.”
Photo by Ramsey

On sensing Buddy’s need Bella’s response is to head for our bed and place her very cold, wet nose on the selected, sleeping face of one of her humans. Believe me, this proves quite alerting and motivating, waking one of us up from even stage IV sleep. Trudy or I will then find Buddy standing at the backdoor and let both Buddy and Bella out for Buddy to do his business. Bella will later bark when both are ready to come back inside.

In my opinion Bella’s door monitoring routine exemplifies dog-dog cooperation. She looks out for the best interests of an uncomfortable, bladder-distended Buddy, but also Bella benefits her human companions by helping avoid a large yellow puddle inside the house.

“And I really appreciate Bella’s help too.”
Photo by Ramsey

Have you too seen examples where dogs cooperate with each other? I would love to hear your stories. Let’s hear it for canine cooperation and doggy solidarity!

Cooperation says it all

Wolves Beat Dogs in Teamwork Test

A video in the NY Times from Wednesday, November 8, 2017 got me thinking. The video produced by James Gorman made the provocative statement that wolves may be smarter than dogs. Could this be true?  More precisely the video claims wolves are smarter than dogs at learning the rope pull test. This task is where two animals of the same species have to work cooperatively to achieve success.

The rope pull test is commonly used test to determine cooperativeness among two animals and to compare among various species. The test consists of a tray around six feet long or so that has two tasty treats in plain sight but unavailable behind a screen. The two animals must simultaneously pull on a rope, at the ends of the slide, thus pulling out the sliding tray amd making the two treats available for consumption. As it turns out wolves learn this task quickly and work cooperatively. Dogs not so much. Other species able to perform the task include elephants, parrots, monkeys, and rooks (black birds). Dogs truly struggle with this task but can eventually learn it.

The explanation provided for dogs’ slowness to learn is that they are not used to working cooperatively with other dogs. Yes, dogs work with humans exceptionally well, such as with bomb sniffing, herding sheep, riding surfboards and skateboards, protecting homes, and sniffing out corpses in forensic investigations. But these are activities dogs do with humans, not in cooperation with other dogs.

Bella on the left and Little Jack on the right

 

Wolves, on the other hand, don’t work with humans but work with members of their pack for survival. If you think about it, this all makes pretty good sense, . Adaptability is after all important for survival. Dogs must adapt to their human companions and make them happy while wolves must adapt to their  pack and become successful hunters.

But this video in the NY Times got me wondering. Are my dogs capable of working together? If so, what can they do cooperatively with each other? I have shared over the years in this blog many examples of my dogs working with me to herd cattle. But this is a task they do in combination with me who is directing them to some extent (at least that is my illusion as de facto leader).

It didn’t take me long to find an example of my dogs cooperating with another dog. Not long after viewing the video I saw Bella, my female Border collie, and Little Jack, our “Texas brown dog” take off on a spontaneous hunting mission. You see, Jack is determined to save the world from what he must see as the scourge of armadillos and squirrels. Just moments before he had spotted an armadillo. After quite a chase, the dogs caught the armadillo. Jack tried to kill it on his own but the armadillo was too strong and pulled out of his bite. Jack held onto the tail of the armadillo and proceeded to ski behind the powerful animal, dragging Jack toward its burrow.

Bella then swooped in went after its head, trying to kill it. Together they managed a successful hunt that neither one of them alone could have pulled off. This hunting duo has killed at least four or five armadillos recently, making them highly effective hunters so long as they work cooperatively. Incidentally they act incredibly proud of themselves, showing extreme excitement and rapid panting after returning from a prolonged absence in which it becomes obvious had been a hunt.

This strikes me quite clearly as cooperation in my dogs. But is it not the only example. I’ve taken to going for a walk for my health most afternoons around 4:00. Not too surprisingly at around this time when usually working at my computer, two dogs will show up at my desk. It can be any two of them.  In tandem they will nose, scratch, whine, and otherwise manipulate me out of my chair. I am then herded unceremoniously toward the door and made available for their afternoon walk.

I have a theory as to why two come at me at a time.  When previously just one dog took on this task, I assumed he/she just needed to go outside to pee and I would promptly put the dog outdoors. They quickly learned a single dog strategy was ineffective.

Well there are two examples of my dogs working cooperatively with one another. There are others I will share in a later blog piece. Please dear readers share your examples. I plan a follow up piece and may be able to share your experiences with other blog readers. Let me hear from you!

Jealousy and Dogs

Jealousy affects animals as well as humans

 

My dogs display clear-cut signs of jealousy  I observe this when I scratch or pay extra attention to one of them. My other dogs will attempt to put their heads between my hand and the dog being scratched or try to run the scratched dog off by licking on its face or pushing it away.

I also observe this in their eating behaviors. When I put the same dry food in their three bowls, one dog will inevitably, after finishing his meal, check out the other two dogs’ bowls. This seems to indicate that the other bowls might have something better in them than did that particular dog’s bowl.

At times their jealousy seems more focused on keeping the affection away from the other dog than gaining attention for the jealous dog. What gives?

And I thought jealousy was a human emotion! This “green-eyed monster” as Shakespeare referred to it clearly extends to dogs as well as people. I bet others have noticed these behaviors in their dogs as well.

Jealousy must be a very basic and primitive emotion in animals. It likely benefits in achieving attention that may lead to increased survival. As such it may be beneficial in an evolutionary way.

I’ve noticed that older dogs do not show jealousy as much as young dogs. This seems consistent in what I’ve witnessed in people. Who among us as youth did not suffer the pangs of jealousy and likely thoroughly embarrass themselves as a result. While older age isn’t a complete guard against jealousy, it doesn’t appear to be as compelling an emotion in older humans nor does it appear to be so in dogs. My older dogs have largely avoided the whole jealous bit.

Jealousy affects both genders in both dogs and humans. It’s aroused by a perceived threat to a valued relationship from a third party. Jealousy is also a painful emotion as most can attest. I presume this is also true in dogs as well. No doubt jealousy has bad effects on dogs just as it causes suspicion, doubt, and fatigue in humans.

So how best to deal with jealousy with dogs? I usually try petting both dogs simultaneously. This works to until a third dog shows up wanting petting. I quickly run out of hands and begin to feel like a one armed paperhanger. I’ve not found adding a extra attention to a dog insures that dog from becoming jealous. Would love to learn the opinions of other human dog companions.

To share the emotion of jealousy with dogs is just one more example of how people and dogs are alike. But come to think of it, I’ve never witnessed a jealous dog do something really stupid like I have with some humans, especially men.

 

At The End Of The Road

 

You might recall the stray dog that wandered onto our ranch several years ago that we named Little Jack Kerouac. We named him after the author of the same name who wrote On The Road and who was the forerunner of a beatnik. Our Little Jack had been wandering the county roads of Gillespie County for months and had traveled many miles when the skinny pup was finally herded into a corner of our yard by our Border collies. The small brown dog was half-starved and intensely fearful. His fear, nevertheless, relented before a succulent piece of fried chicken, prompting the little brown dog to climb into my arms.

Despite his bad condition from his long tenure as a road dog, it became apparent that he had been neutered and house broken. These aspects suggested at one time Jack had enjoyed a close relationship with a human friend.

Yours truly ready to work on the ranch with assistants Jack and Bella.

We still don’t know what all he encountered as a road dog and Jack isn’t talking. We suspect he must have scrounged whatever he could find to eat including roadkill. We know Jack is a canny survivor.

His breeding has proved an ongoing mystery. When asked what breed he is, we finally gave up guessing and simply began replying, “He’s a Texas Brown Dog.”

Since Jack’s arrival, let’s just say… he’s matured and settled in well. He has adapted to his new home on a hill at the end of his very long road.

Sometime ago I wrote several blog pieces on Jack stealthily loading himself into various vehicles and stowing away for rides. We do not think he was trying to escape his adopted home but that he merely wanted to go for rides. Fortunately, after a few bad moments of being unable to locate Little Jack, we were able to place phone calls and have him returned.

Jack is no longer the skinny road dog he once was. He has, in fact, chunked up. He still loves to go on ranch walks, run errands and ride in the pickup. Whereas the Borders ride in the bed of the pickup, Little Jack proudly expects to sit on the console in the cab where, if hot, the AC is on and, if cold, the heater warms him. He likes his creature comforts.

When our Borders are let out of the pickup to exercise by running up the hill to the house, Jack preemptively jumps off the console and hides in the back seat. No silly running up the hill for Little Jack. Why get out of a perfectly good pickup and wear out my foot pads?

At night Jack has inched his way closer and closer to the head of the bed. Initially when he came into our lives he slept under the bed or on a nearby dog bed. He later transferred to the foot of the bed. Now Trudy and I find the little rascal snuggled between us, his head lying on a soft pillow. Imagine going from the hard life of a road dog to a pillow top mattress!

Jack likely thinks, “Heck with Pearl Buck’s ideas of a place in the sun, I have a soft mattress in an air conditioned home.” When asleep, he becomes an almost immovable lump. If Trudy or I get up in the middle of the night, he migrates to the vacated warm spot, claims it, and is difficult to dislodge.

It’s said every dog has its purpose. The purpose of our Border collies is clear, herding our cattle. Jack’s purpose has been harder to determine. Surprisingly, he sometimes has helped the Border collies with herding. But mainly Jack is a varmint dog and represents an absolute terror for squirrels and armadillos. This job of protecting the world from squirrels and armadillos, though, is not full time for our Little Jack.

Several years ago my mother came to live with us and it was then that we learned what Jack’s real job was–companionship. My elderly mother would sit on the couch for hours with Jack snuggled up against her, stroking his furry head. He returned her affection with gentle licks and made his belly available for endless scratching. Mom and Jack became thick as thieves, although we worried my Mom might rub Jack’s head bald.

“I think I can still feel the pea!”

My mother possessed a huge capacity to love, and in her final years she so enjoyed Jack’s companionship. Jack became a willing recipient for her love, and in turn he reciprocated his love for her. I’m convinced Jack made her final days much happier.

I suppose companionship is the major role for many dogs. Dogs have such an amazing ability to relate to humans, to sense their emotions, and to offer their unconditional love. It takes all kinds of dogs, but Jack has stolen our hearts and in their places left behind his paw prints.

Dog Lessons On Living- Part 2

In my previous post I dealt with how two dogs modeled how to deal with serious illness and impending death. The two examples were from our current Border collie, Buddy, and our long deceased Shetland sheep dog (Sheltie), Taffy. Their love of life and passion for their favorite activities persisted despite their physical challenges.

If we abandon the arrogant notion that humans are somehow completely different from other animals and instead recognize our common genetics, anatomy, physiology, needs, and behaviors, then animal behavior can become a potential assist for our lives.

I am reminded of a story from my recent book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales about Mary from Minnesota. This story, like many others in the concluding chapter of my book, took place aboard a fictitious cruise ship and demonstrated great perseverance of some physically handicapped folks in the face of adversity. The very real members of a group that Trudy and I accompanied had been organized by a national Parkinson’s Disease organization. Despite Mary’s advanced disease requiring  her to have a feeding tube, tracheostomy, urinary catheter, wheelchair, and and full-time attendant, she had demanded to go on the cruise.

Unfortunately Mary didn’t make it and passed away during the cruise. When speaking that evening by phone to her daughter in far away Minnesota, I learned to my surprise that the family had  expected Mary to die on the cruise. After recovering from my shock, I further learned that Mary had a lifelong habit of taking on great challenges. Despite her failing health Mary in recent years had undertaken skydiving, ridden a burro down into the Grand Canyon, and been strapped to a dogsled in Alaska. Mary refused to give in to her illness nor would she be prevented from trying new, exciting, and life changing thrills.

From Sailaway Chapter of Carrying The Black Bag

While Mary was only one of our passengers with Parkinson’s disease, all of them despite their balance issues dealt with the swaying of the deck and with the many challenges of shore excursions and beach activities. They also managed the dietary differences that at times limited the effectiveness of their medicines. None of these brave people shied away from the challenging experience, showing their zest for life and denying their illnesses control over their lives.

Now I know not all people with PD would make such a challenging journey. Indeed life is like a marathon and all of us hit the wall at times. Some persist and break through the wall while others are unable to do so.

Health and vibrant aging can be such a gift but persistence is also demanded

Both Buddy our Border collie, Taffy our Sheltie, and Mary refused to give in. All lived their lives to the greatest extent possible. I don’t know where Mary derived her zest for life, but she might have witnessed it in her pet. For whatever reason, Mary had learned to live her life as fully as she possibly could, believing that the quality of her life was more important than the number of days she lived.

Therein may lie a lesson for us all. Our challenge may be to garner as rich and full a life as possible. We all will likely be faced with challenges. Some of us will continue to strive and others will find an easier but less fulfilling way to live. Nothing is wrong with either approach, but our pets may have at least modeled the more courageous approach to life. Without it would we have even considered such a course of action?