Strap line

It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Dog Loses Ear at Dog Park and There Was Nothing We Could Do About It

#SPARCS2014 Day 1
Hi Mia!

Looking forward to the upcoming SPARCS conference in June! We’ll be in Newport, Rhode Island from June 20-22, 2014 with the live audience doing the play-by-play (my dad is going to have to give me baseball reporting tips beforehand), but ANYONE on planet Earth can watch the conference live for free!

Each day of the conference is dedicated to one general topic, and that's not something you often see at conferences. Usually, one person gives a keynote, maybe there’s time for Q&A, and that’s the end! This time, multiple experts will weigh in on the same topic. 

#SPARCS2014 Day 1: June 20, 2014 covers "Aggression and Conflict." Expert speakers (bios here) join the day of talks with takeaways like:
  • Patricia McConnell: To be able to recognize the visual signs of conflict and agonistic behavior  
  • Ray Coppinger: To understand motor patterns when interpreting aggression  
  • James Serpell: To draw attention to what we do and don’t know about aggression in dogs 
  • Simon Gadbois: To learn the richness of the concept of behavioral and social “rules” 
  • Kathryn Lord: To understand how the broader scientific field of animal behavior and comparison to other animals can inform us about dog behavior
Reading about what will be covered, I couldn’t help but think about people who are personally dealing with companion dog aggression or conflict issues -- not the most warm and fuzzy thing to have to deal with. And then I remembered that while many dogs may be dealing with aggression and conflict issues, many people are not necessarily aware that there’s even an issue in their midst!

Let me back up and explain:


Just this month I learned about a paper, Situated activities in a dog park: Identity and conflict in human-animal space, at The Science Dog (Blog / Facebook), a blog maintained by Linda Case, M.S., (author of numerous books on dog behavior, nutrition and training). Case recently reviewed the paper, and you can read her review here.  
Flickr Creative Commons, Justin Beckley
Patrick Jackson, the author of 'Situated activities in a dog park,' is a sociologist at Sonoma State University. At a general level, his paper explores “how people and their dogs do things (activities) together (situated) in the dog park environment.” A ‘situated activity’ is one that bring people together not because they are best best best friends, but because they share a common interest, and in this case, that interest is dogs.

At the dog park, people spend a great deal of time talking about, well, dogs. Jackson describes dog park conversations that we are all familiar with: “Which one is yours?” and “What’s his/her name?”, with follow-up questions about age and habits.


We know that people readily talk to and through their dogs. Over at The Dodo, Alexandra Horowitz recently covered the different types of things we say to dogs (my favorite: “We don't need you to fix everyone's problems.”) I’ve discussed our one-sided conversations with animals over at Scientific American: Did You Have A Good Pee, Mr. Rhino? (I swear the post is about dogs).

But back to Jackson's paper: My ears perked up in the section “Control management.” Jackson comments that the dog park can be a hodgepodge of many dogs doing many different things. Meanwhile, dog owners don’t always know whether something ‘should be done’ and if so, what that ‘something’ should look like.
Per Jackson, “it is also ambiguous how caretakers are supposed to manage their own and others’ dogs in the dog park. If a dog is about to enter the park and is snarling at yours, should you intercede?”

And because dog parks don’t come equipped with species-specific referees (think on-site social workers, psychologists and animal behaviorists), dog parks can be chaotic, even unsafe.
 

Dogs are confusing. People are confusing. Put them together in a public space, and it’s like all the circuses came to town on the same day.


To add insult to injury, dogs also come with teeth. Again, Jackson:
 

“It is difficult to know, for example, when untoward behavior like aggressiveness is imminent (King & Long, 2004). In the dynamic dog park environment, knowledge about aggression may only be gained through experience.”

Hmm
 

Hmmm
 

Hmmmmmm
 

WHAT?!? 
 

The first sentence I get. 

“It is difficult to know, for example, when untoward behavior like aggressiveness is imminent.”
 

That's true. People are not innately able to recognize fear and stress behaviors in dogs, even a dog that they live with. And with dogs coming in all shapes, sizes and ‘ways of displaying canid behaviors,’ detecting fear and stress is even more challenging. Many distance-increasing signals can easily go unnoticed. So far, so good, Mr. Jackson.
 

But the second part:
 

“In the dynamic dog park environment, knowledge about aggression may only be gained through experience.”

Makes zero sense. Scratch that. It makes less than zero sense.
 

The field of animal behavior is all about studying what animals do. Some researchers study play in goats, while others might study aggressive displays in chimps, ants, stickleback fish, or even cranes (such as what aggression and its precursors look like in each of these species). As Mugatu from Zoolander might say, “Dogs are so hot right now.” Many are investigating why dogs do what they do, and veterinarians, veterinary behaviorists, trainers, ethologists, comparative psychologists, behavior analysts, and anthrozoologists are hot on the trail.

Aggression and conflict is an area that many animal behavior researchers investigate. Which is to say, people who live with dogs are lucky: science-based resources on dog aggression and conflict exist and are only growing.

For dog owners, "aggression” doesn’t have to be this strange, unknown, out-of-the-blue thing. You don’t have to wait until your hand is bitten to learn about aggression. Heck, we could even argue that we learn less about aggression and conflict through actual experience. Ever hear anybody say: “OOOOoh! Now I get it! I now clearly see all the things that led up to that dog biting that other dog’s ear off. I will certainly not miss it next time”? To an untrained eye, witnessing conflict is usually very upsetting and scary, not something where you walk away with a deeper understanding of what actually went down or how it could have been avoided.
SPARCS website
Here are some free, science-based ways to learn about dog aggression & conflict: 
 

1) #SPARCS2014 Day 1: June 20, 2014 'Aggression and Conflict'
Anybody in the world can tune in live for this day of research into conflict and aggression. Join Patricia McConnell, Ray Coppinger, James Serpell, Simon Gadbois and Kathryn Lord as they examine this topic from different angles.
 

2) Free Dog Behavior Webinars (watch live or watch the recordings)
For the last few years, The Center for Shelter Dogs (Twitter / Facebook) and ASPCA Professional (Twitter / Facebook) have been holding free Webinars on companion animal behavior, care and sheltering. Many of the Webinars focus on dog behavior, and they are led by trainers, practitioners, veterinarians and researchers who work with dogs from hoarding and fighting cases, as well as companion, street and shelter dogs. These hour-long Webinars are free, archived and available online now!
 

ASPCA Pro Archived Webinars (search by topic, select few below)

The Center for Shelter Dogs Archived Webinars (search by date, select few listed below)

  • Wondering About Food Aggression in Shelter Dogs?, February 2014
  • Fear of People, May 2013
  • Optimizing Canine Welfare, February 2013

3) CAAB Chats
 
Online CAAB chats are new to the scene. These free monthly talks are hosted by Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists, people with a PhD (or ACAABs with a Masters) in an Animal Behavior field. Learn more about CAABs and ACAABs here. These monthly talks are free to watch live with a small fee for the recording. The initial two talks covered ‘Canine Communication’ and ‘Response Prevention.’ Next up, ‘Social Roles and Relationships in Dogs’ on March 27, 2014. Sign up for updates about future talk topics here.

~~~

You and I know this is not an exhaustive list (we could add books, blogs, websites and more webinars another day — for this I focused on resources that are available and mostly free). Aggression and conflict are not all that straightforward, and hearing about it from another person, especially in the form of a Webinar, can make the topic a lot more manageable.

When #SPARCS2014 Day 1: Aggression and Conflict comes around, I hope people show up open to the idea that there are many ways to learn about aggression and conflict, and that “knowledge about aggression may only be gained through experience” won’t serve anyone, dog or person.

Oh, and why is the post titled, Dog Loses Ear at Dog Park and There Was Nothing We Could Do About It? Check out The Science Dog post Dog Park People for more on those unfortunate details.
 

Hope all’s well! I think there's a meta-analysis on your horizon...
 

Julie


Reference
Jackson P. 2012. Situated activities in a dog park: Identity and conflict in human-animal space. Society and Animals 20, 254-272. DOI: 

Case, L. 2014. Dog Park People. The Science Dog Blog



Copyright Do You Believe in Dog? 2014