Saturday, November 3, 2012

Every Move You Make, Every Breath You Take

Mina the farm dog
Whatevs, I'm fearless
It turns out dogs are actually creepy stalkers.

Actually, it turns out dogs are social referencers. That is, they will rely on the social cues exhibited by others and adjust their reaction to a novel situation. The cool thing is dogs use US as social references.

This may not actually be cool, because sometimes we are acting like fools and our dogs don't need to be too.

The research comes to us from the University of Milan. Dogs and their guardians enter a room with an oscillating fan that has streamers attached to it. This is a strange device that often inspires hesitation from dogs. In fact, all the dogs stopped at the threshold before entering and 83% of them looked back and forth from their guardian's face to the strange streamer-laden fan.

The guardians would then make a negative statement or a positive one.

When guardians made a negative statement (undoubtedly accompanied with "negative" feelings), the dogs generally stopped moving and did not explore.

When guardians made a positive exclamation PLUS a positive body movement, the dogs acted the same way they did when no fan was present - they explored the room more freely. A positive statement alone did not inspire the dogs to investigate more. And if guardians moved comfortably toward the object, the dogs were less wearisome as well.

This is how I taught Mina to gain confidence. It was not merely a matter of teaching her to investigate strange objects freely, it was a matter of showing her *I* had no concern about said objects. I taught her a "what's that" request which was always accompanied by me crouching in front of the object and happily talking and touching it. Mina still knows this request and loves to show off for me when I ask...she especially loves it when it involves objects she used to be afraid of but is no longer, like paper bags!

1 comment:

PoochesForPeace said...

Thats a neat study. That would b a fun job to be able to study dog behavior like that all the time !