Mt. Vernon Register-News

Community News Network

May 20, 2014

Barks and recreation: Cracking the canine code

SAN FRANCISCO — A shaggy brown terrier approaches a large chocolate Labrador in a city park. When the terrier gets close, he adopts a yogalike pose, crouching on his forepaws and hiking his butt into the air. The Lab gives an excited bark, and soon the two dogs are somersaulting and tugging on each other's ears. Then the terrier takes off and the Lab gives chase, his tail wagging wildly. When the two meet once more, the whole thing begins again.

Watch a couple of dogs play, and you'll probably see seemingly random gestures, lots of frenetic activity and a whole lot of energy being expended. But decades of research suggest that beneath this apparently frivolous fun lies a hidden language of honesty and deceit, empathy and perhaps even a humanlike morality.

Take those two dogs. That yogalike pose is known as a "play bow," and in the language of play it's one of the most commonly used phrases. It's an instigation and a clarification, a warning and an apology. Dogs often adopt this stance as an invitation to play right before they lunge at another dog; they also bow before they nip ("I'm going to bite you, but I'm just fooling around") or after some particularly aggressive roughhousing ("Sorry I knocked you over; I didn't mean it.").

All of this suggests that dogs have a kind of moral code — one long hidden to humans until a cognitive ethologist named Marc Bekoff began to crack it.

A wiry 68-year-old with reddish-gray hair tied back in a long ponytail, Bekoff is a professor emeritus at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he taught for 32 years. He began studying animal behavior in the early 1970s, spending four years videotaping groups of dogs, wolves and coyotes in large enclosures and slowly playing back the tapes, jotting down every nip, yip and lick. "Twenty minutes of film could take a week to analyze," he says.

The data revealed insights into how the animals maintained their tight social bonds — by grooming each other, for example. But what changed Bekoff's life was watching them play. The wolves would chase each other, run, jump and roll over for seemingly no other reason than to have fun.

Few people had studied animal play, but Bekoff was intrigued. "Play is a major expenditure of energy, and it can be dangerous," he says. "You can twist a shoulder or break a leg, and it can increase your chances of being preyed upon. So why do they do it? It has to feel good."

Suddenly, Bekoff wasn't interested just in behavior; he was interested also in emotions and, fundamentally, what was going on inside these animals' heads.

— — —

Text Only
Community News Network
  • Africa goes medieval in its fight against Ebola

    As the Ebola epidemic claims new victims at an ever-increasing rate, African governments in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have instituted a "cordon sanitaire," deploying troops to forcibly isolate the inhabitants in an area containing most of the cases.

    August 18, 2014

  • Democrat? Republican? There's an app for that

    If you're a Republican, you might want to think twice before buying Lipton Iced Tea, and forget about Starbucks coffee. If you're a Democrat, put down that Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, and throw away the cylinder of Quaker Oats in your pantry.

    August 18, 2014

  • Five myths about presidential vacations

    In the nuclear age, presidents may have only minutes to make a decision that could affect the entire world. They don't so much leave the White House as they take a miniature version of it with them wherever they go.

    August 15, 2014

  • weightloss.jpg The scales of injustice: Weight loss differs between men, women

    You're not imagining it: There really are differences between the way men and women diet, lose weight and respond to exercise.

    August 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Drug dealers going corporate

    A top federal official on Tuesday said that 105 banks and credit unions are doing business with legal marijuana sellers, suggesting that federal rules giving financial institutions the go-ahead to provide services to dealers are starting to work.

    August 13, 2014

  • wwimemorial.jpg The benefit of World War I omission on the Washington Mall

    By 1982, when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial opened on the National Mall, something had shifted in the way we remember our wars. A national memorial, prominently placed on the nation's most symbolically significant public space, came to seem like an essential dignity offered to veterans, their families and the memory of those who gave their lives. But there is an exception.

    August 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • In Japan, ramen aficionados worry their favorite dish is coming off the boil

    "The ramen boom has ended," said Ivan Orkin, a New Yorker who first traveled to Japan in the 1980s and now owns two noodle-soup restaurants in Tokyo. "A boom implies that there are new avenues and new growth to pursue, and that's not the case in Japan anymore."

    August 11, 2014

  • Ronnie Ellis: U.S. Senate race trail long and interesting

    By Ronnie Ellis/CNHI News Service

    FRANKFORT — Last week was a long one, endured under the onslaught of an awful summer cold and played out across the commonwealth. It began in Fancy Farm and ended it in Corbin with a trip to Hazard in between.

    August 9, 2014

  • Senate race becomes family affair

    By LANA BELLAMY
    CNHI NEWS SERVICE
    PAINTSVILLE — U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got personal on Friday while calling a report inaccurate concerning his wife’s role as a board member in an organization that funds anti-coal efforts.

    August 9, 2014

  • Dennis Beighley led out of courthouse Mother, grandparents face attempted murder charges in starvation case

    Cheers and applause erupted in a courtroom when a pregnant mother from Pennsylvania accused of starving her then-7-year-old son was remanded to jail, along with the boy’s grandparents.

    August 8, 2014 2 Photos

Twitter Updates
Facebook
Stocks