Thursday, July 27, 2006

More on the Dogs of Yore

Lord Zim is not the only place to read about the so-called dogs of yore (I thought I invented that phrase, but a cursory Googling proves me wrong). Here, in an old New Yorker, is a great book review about dogs and what they may be telling us, as explained in the work of psychologist and dog trainer Stanley Coren.

Excerpt the first:
    Consider the case of Shadow, a golden retriever of unusual acuity. One day in obedience class, he was commanded by an inexperienced boy, "Come on, Shadow, sit down!" Shadow looked uncertain for a moment; then he lowered his rear end to the ground and his chest nearly as far down, and began with his front paws to drag himself in that position toward the boy, whimpering as he went. The obedience instructor was puzzled by this strange behavior, until he realized that Shadow—brilliantly, tragically—was trying to come, sit, and lie down all at once.
Excerpt the second:
    Once, Coren was telephoned by a woman named Josephine, who was having trouble with her Rottweiler, Bluto. The problem was that Bluto was too affectionate. When Josephine's husband, Vincent, was around, he would behave, but when Vincent went to work Bluto wouldn't leave Josephine alone. He would put a paw on her knee; he would gaze into her eyes; he would sit very close on the sofa and lean against her, and if she moved away to make room for him he would follow and lean on her again. Josephine would stroke him on his head, but it seemed that nothing she could do satisfied his longing for love. When Coren arrived at her house to assess the situation for himself, however, he realized that Bluto was not demonstrating affection at all. The paw on the knee, the staring down, the leaning—all these were gestures designed to convey to Josephine that Bluto was of a higher status in the household than she was. And, alas, Josephine's response—the stroke on the head—was, in dog language, classically submissive, akin to the humble lick that a low-status dog or a puppy would give a dominant dog to show that it knew its place.

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