Skip

Humping a playmate during a romp...
May 21, 2014 1:10 PM   Subscribe


 
From the article:
"Dogs [can] understand human pointing while chimpanzees [can] not."

I'd think Chimpanzees could figure it out really fast, but it seems unfair to compare a domesticated species to a non-domesticated species when it comes to "reading" what humans want from them.
posted by whatgorilla at 1:17 PM on May 21 [5 favorites]


Yeah dogs not only have thier own way of committing with each other but also learn how to commit ate with humans and I wonder how much cross-pollination there was.
posted by The Whelk at 1:22 PM on May 21


Dogs may understand human pointing, but cats understand human pointlessing.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 1:30 PM on May 21 [8 favorites]


and that they nuzzle and lick people who are crying

Year before last when I found out my mom had cancer (she's fine now, thankfully), I had a lot of days where I'd come home from work and just cry. When this would happen, my dog would sit on my lap, fretfully whine, and periodically reach up and lick my tears.

I'm still not entirely convinced that this was an empathic response so much as mmm tears much salty so yum, but it did make me feel better.

He is a pretty good listener, though.
posted by phunniemee at 1:32 PM on May 21 [10 favorites]


That yogalike pose is known as a “play bow,” and in the language of play it’s one of the most commonly used words. It’s an instigation and a clarification, a warning and an apology.

My two cocker spaniels do this first thing in the morning after they get up, before they go outside to use the potty. I assumed they were just stretching to wake up?
posted by magstheaxe at 1:32 PM on May 21


There is a difference between the stretch and the bow.

My dog will play bow with me when he wants to wrestle or play tug of war.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:36 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Stetching down into the pose is different from quickly diving into the pose. My dogs will definitely stretch that way, but their play bow (damn it, I can't recall what I used to call it) is noticeably different because of the abruptness. Also, I think when my dogs stretch their tails will be moving minimally, while in play bow the tails will be moving sharply.
posted by nobeagle at 1:37 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


I assumed they were just stretching to wake up?

It could be one or the other. Our dog does both and they look different: during a play bow, her chest is closer to the ground and her paws are relaxed. When she stretches, she's more, well, stretched-out and her front legs are thrust out and her little toes are all spread.

But she's skinny and short-haired. On a cocker I can see it being nearly indistinguishable.
posted by griphus at 1:37 PM on May 21


and that they nuzzle and lick people who are crying

When my Crohn's used to be worse, and I'd be lying on the couch in pain, my pit beagle Danny would come up and lick me and gently touch my face with his paw (!).
posted by Jpfed at 1:39 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


My dog does downward dog to stretch first thing in the morning and after each of the day's naps.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:39 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


I think we underestimate animal intelligence quite a lot, and it worries me sometimes. A few weeks ago, I got a fish that I swear to god was getting bored in the tank all by himself. He'd follow me around whenever I even came near the tank, looking for something to do. I got him some dumbass fish as "buddies" and he's seemed much happier. At first he was "playing" with the other fish the way they do each other (chasing them around, etc) but they're much smaller than him and didn't like that and he's since stopped. If a fish smaller than the palm of my hand and that's eaten for food in some parts of the world is capable of boredom, play, judging others based on how they interact with him, etc, then what *are* animals like dogs capable of?

This is probably going to make me sound like a screwball, but I hate eating pork for this reason -- pigs have a gleam of intelligence in their eyes, and it makes it feel wrong to eat them, in the same way that it would feel wrong to me to eat a cat or dog or talking parrot.
posted by rue72 at 1:41 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


I'm still not entirely convinced that this was an empathic response so much as mmm tears much salty so yum, but it did make me feel better.

No, it really was empathy. When I've been low in the past, dogs I knew (but not owned) would come over and put their head on my lap, or just flopped down beside me where they could be easily petted, when they could have run away. Dogs have been bred over thousands of years to understand us, and they're pretty good at it.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:43 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


I think we underestimate animal intelligence quite a lot, and it worries me sometimes.

We also overestimate human intelligence, judging by the related headline at the bottom of the page: "Three people, 24 cats and 5,600 dogs fall sick due to pet food."
posted by mudpuppie at 1:47 PM on May 21 [10 favorites]


Dogs have been bred over thousands of years to understand us, and they're pretty good at it.

Just in case someone wonders about the "thousands" part:

"The oldest convincing [ritual dog burial] is Bonn-Oberkassel, in Germany, about 14,000 years old. Not only was the dog buried, it was part of a human double grave."
posted by griphus at 1:50 PM on May 21 [6 favorites]


Anyone who owns a dog and a functioning brain already knows this. Our dogs have extremely complicated games they play, one of them is quite kindly but patient amd sneaky and the other is an emotionally incontinent child who dog #1 enjoys tormenting to the edge of madness. Dog #3 is a loser and only allowed to play if he consents to being used as a punching bag. He's ok with that.

This dynamic is immediately obvious to anyone who observes them for two minutes.

Also dog #2 lacks empathy and it's really noticeable that's she's not a normal dog that way. If someone gets hurt or is upset she is totally disinterested.
posted by fshgrl at 1:51 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


rue72: don't search youtube for "pig obedience"

While I don't doubt that we underestimate animal intelligence in many ways, there's also the issue of how much of the behavior is just/mostly instinct (and reactions to the instinctual movements of others). For a good example of this, it takes dogs and cats a while to negotiate how to play because they're instinctive movements are too different. That said, some dogs and cats can and do learn to play together. Cross species play is a better example of theory of mind to me, than same species play.
posted by nobeagle at 1:54 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


pit beagle

OK SO WOW anyone else who saw this and said to themselves I MUST GOOGLE THIS ADORABLE SOUNDING DOG TYPE please be forewarned that GIS has a lot of heinously graphic wound photos of what are apparently beagles who were attacked by pitbulls instead of just photos of adorable crossbred puppies as one might hope.
posted by elizardbits at 1:56 PM on May 21 [6 favorites]


My dog has eschewed the play bow/stretch in favour of a more complex morning routine of stretch while lying down -> go downstairs excitedly -> remember the guinea pig is dead -> come upstairs again -> jump on bed -> lick privates -> look huffy about lack of petting
posted by Quilford at 1:58 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Oh, what about that thing where you're trying to just sit for a minute and take a poop and your dog comes and nonchalantly sits down on your foot. What does that mean.
posted by phunniemee at 2:04 PM on May 21 [5 favorites]


my dog does the footsitting when i'm casually trying to get work done which never works for either of us because i have to try pet her with my foot and she hates that
posted by Quilford at 2:06 PM on May 21


Oh, what about that thing where you're trying to just sit for a minute and take a poop and your dog comes and nonchalantly sits down on your foot. What does that mean.

My cat does this. If you try to keep her out of the bathroom she lays across the threshold just outside the door, waiting for you, and if you let her in she wants to sit right at your feet. I think she thinks she's guarding us during a vulnerable moment. Maybe it's the same for your dog?

We call her Madam Peepee.

Also though, my cat loves the bathroom, I think because she thinks it's the heart of our "territory." It's where we all piss, after all.
posted by rue72 at 2:08 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


I'm still not entirely convinced that this was an empathic response so much as mmm tears much salty so yum, but it did make me feel better.

It's something that's frustrated me for years - insistence that there can be no overlap, no relationship between animal emotions/reactions and human reactions. "Oh that dog isn't really displaying sympathy, he just wants to lick the salt off your skin.... that dog isn't really hiding in guilt under the bed after digging up your flower bed, she's just suddenly decided to go there out of some genetically-programmed ancestral desire to live in a cave."

For me, I can't see how the hypothesis that animals cannot possibly have the same emotions as humans is a stronger hypothesis than the hypothesis that they can. After all, we're all mammals. We've all for four limbs, two eyes, large brains. We share a lot, physically, genetically. Why should a dog have a physical pain response like humans, but people insist they can't have a feeling of joy or sorrow or guilt like humans? Working from the starting point that humans are fundamentally different from other animals seems like an almost anti-evolutionary, creative design based argument. I'd much rather a bit of casual anthropomorphising than that.
posted by Jimbob at 2:11 PM on May 21 [16 favorites]


Intelligent design based argument, even. You know what I mean. By a creator.
posted by Jimbob at 2:16 PM on May 21


Also though, my cat loves the bathroom, I think because she thinks it's the heart of our "territory." It's where we all piss, after all.

I've shared this story on metafilter before I think, but my dog is litter box trained and does most of his pooping in a box in my house. Procedure is to go pick up the poop with some toilet paper and then flush it down the toilet.

Back when he was a tiny puppy and just getting the hang of the litter box thing, each poop would be greeted with much fanfare and ceremony, and he'd get praised a ton. He'd follow me into the bathroom, put his little paws up on the seat, and watch that poop go flushing down, all while I patted his head and told him that he was the best doggy.

One morning while I was getting ready for work, he was trying to get me to play with him by jabbing me repeatedly in the calf with a little rubber frisbee toy he has. I was standing in the bathroom occupied with getting ready so wasn't playing back with him.

At some point he must have realized his method wasn't working, because he changed tactics and happily dropped his frisbee in the toilet, looking at me expectantly. Dropped it in the toilet because that's where the important things go.
posted by phunniemee at 2:20 PM on May 21 [21 favorites]


I never liked the phrase "play bow," as it sounds like our dogs should have ruffled collars, caps to doff, and showily formal mannerisms. Dogs lunge to the ground with a facial expression of pure expectation and sometimes sort of paddle their legs so they jerk back and forth. It isn't a bow.

It's more like the idea of playing excites them so much that they lose the ability to stand correctly. It's like an energetic play collapse.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:26 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Yeah my cat used to do that with mice and shrews she caught. Dropped them in the toilet, which was:

a) Gross
b) Touching
C) Shockingly tone deaf, I mean... read the room Dizzy, jeesh.

I'm currently cohabiting with a very sensitive pit who has such an elaborate play bow play bow performance that it's like having to let the Emperor out every morning to take a piss. She's adorable.
posted by Divine_Wino at 2:27 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


It makes sense to me that dogs know and understand our behaviors because we've spent so long selecting for exactly those traits. We want companions who understand us and with whom we can communicate.

Franklin, I am confident, knows my feelings and reacts to them. Mom is crying? I will writhe frantically all over her til she feels better! Mom knows I pooped in the dining room again? I'll....just be hiding over here in the kitchen... Mom is walking around jauntily? She must want to play! I'll fetch the squeakiest toy and show it to her immediately!
posted by chatongriffes at 2:28 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


I was struck recently by the contrast between philosophical views. Descartes considered animals simple, mindless robots; David Hume said he thought it was so obvious animals had thoughts and emotions like those of human beings he was slightly embarassed to present an argument that seemed so unnecessary.
posted by Segundus at 2:30 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


I use this clip from Nova about dog intelligence as compared to primate intelligence during the primate cognition section of my class. The reason dogs are better than chimps or bonobos at some tasks humans think are important are just what eponysterical whatgorilla said: we have selected for dogs who can do what's we wanted to. Ask a comp to do something biologically relevant and chance are she will outperform a dog at same task.
posted by ChuraChura at 2:33 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


It's something that's frustrated me for years - insistence that there can be no overlap, no relationship between animal emotions/reactions and human reactions.

"Presumption is our natural and original disease. The most wretched and frail of all creatures is man, and withal the proudest. He feels and sees himself lodged here in the dirt and filth of the world, nailed and riveted to the worst and deadest part of the universe, in the lowest story of the house, and most remote from the heavenly arch, with animals of the worst condition of the three, and yet in his imagination will be placing himself above the circle of the moon, and bringing heaven under his feet. ’Tis by the vanity of the same imagination that he equals himself to God, attributes to himself divine qualities, withdraws and separates himself from the crowd of other creatures, cuts out the shares of animals his fellows and companions, and distributes to them portions of faculties and force as himself thinks fit. How does he know, by the strength of his understanding, the secret and internal motions of animals? and from what comparison betwixt them and us does he conclude the stupidity he attributes to them?"

- Michel de Montaigne
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:35 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


...and your dog comes and nonchalantly sits down on your foot. What does that mean.

Ours does this, and also sits on the bath mat while either one of us is in the shower. We just figure he's providing protection during a vulnerable moment.
posted by hwyengr at 2:46 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


During the lowest part of a nasty flu this winter, I spent most of a day lying on my side on the couch with my lab Russell watching nearby. After a particularly bad coughing fit, Russell quickly stood up, trotted to the couch, and put his head on the pillow in front of my face and one paw near my chest. He stood still like that, keeping eye contact, until I pet his head and talked to him, then he lay back down and continued watching. That moment convinced me that dogs have the capacity for empathy.
posted by skymt at 2:52 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Not just dogs. When I fell off my bike pretty hard in San Antonio, a cat came out of nowhere while I moaned and cursed and just like, pressed against my side and purred like a helicopter. We named him Pity Cat.
posted by The Whelk at 3:09 PM on May 21 [17 favorites]


"Not just dogs. When I fell off my bike pretty hard in San Antonio, a cat came out of nowhere while I moaned and cursed and just like, pressed against my side and purred like a helicopter. We named him Pity Cat."

He was hoping you would die soon and face eating could commence.
posted by keli at 3:20 PM on May 21 [10 favorites]


We named him Pity Cat.

He was just waiting for his lunch to settle down and stop crying.
posted by elizardbits at 3:22 PM on May 21 [8 favorites]


Related: Moral in Tooth and Claw. Marc Bekoff is great. The fact that dogs, but not chimps, understand the pointing gesture makes sense; wolves and wolfdogs are highly responsive to human body language, and they respond to hand gestures more than they respond to vocal commands. I never understood the "it's only instinct" argument. Where do you draw the line between "only instinct" and higher-order reasoning?

Coyotes let you know your enemies better than a dog.

John Shore describes his experience with desert coyotes as such:
They’re as smart as dogs. Or as dumb, or something. But not long ago, I looked up from a book I was reading on our patio right into the eyes of a coyote sitting in the brambly dirt maybe 60 feet away from me. His ears were fully perked up, his black, unblinking eyes were staring right at me; clearly, he’d been sitting there wondering whether or not he could take me. Having just lost a cat to possibly that dastardly dingo, I looked around for something to hurl at him. Finding nothing, I dashed into our apartment and grabbed a few tangerines. Back outside, I respotted the coyote—who hadn’t moved an inch—wound up, and let fly a bullet of a tangerine that, unfortunately, sailed about four feet over Psycho Lassie's head. But instead of responding with, “Whoa! That blind guy’s throwing fruit at me! I better get outta here!” the creature turned and leapt—arching, bounding leaps—in the precise direction the fruit had flown. Near the spot where the tangerine hit ground the animal then stopped, legs locked, and began rather wildly looking about himself. Finding nothing, he then spun and bounded right back to where he’d started. He sat, and began starting at me again—this time with what I couldn’t help but notice amounted to near-manic anticipation.

He wanted me to play fetch with him!

I was just ... I couldn't believe it. For one, talk about adding insult to injury. First he, or one of his pals, eats my cat--and then he wants me to entertain him?
The coyote I worked with had excellent theory of mind. One time he got me to chase him across the yard, tail wagging, and then as soon as I was the right distance away, he turned and galloped back to a hole in the fence that he must have noticed earlier and tried to escape. He was really good at finding ways to outfox me. Um, so to speak.
posted by quiet earth at 3:30 PM on May 21 [9 favorites]


My dog is pure empathy. Any time someone is down or in physical pain, even a stranger, he goes over and leans against them, maintaining intense direct physical contact.

Anyone who says animals have no emotions must never have spent time with them.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:38 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


From the article:
"Dogs [can] understand human pointing while chimpanzees [can] not."

I'd think Chimpanzees could figure it out really fast, but it seems unfair to compare a domesticated species to a non-domesticated species when it comes to "reading" what humans want from them.
posted by whatgorilla at 1:17 PM on May 21 [+] [!]


I think that you reveal your bias in favor of primates over domesticated animals simply by your username.
posted by janey47 at 3:39 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Not just dogs.

I was waiting for someone to say that so that I could relate that last night was a really weepy one for me (a friend passed away), and the cat was on me all freaking night, purring. I guess it's possible that she decided she finally broke me and she was laying on me and purring as a demonstration of her conquest, but really I think she just knew I was sad and was trying to make me feel better, and she was happy to do it.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:59 PM on May 21 [5 favorites]


Thanks to millions of years of evolution, my dog is able to laugh at all my jokes. Except that one joke that wasn't so funny.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:26 PM on May 21 [5 favorites]


I somehow continually forget that cats do not understand pointing. At all. It makes me feel better to remember that dogs do, because that means there's an actual reason I keep pointing things out to my cats even though they have never once followed the line of my finger and gaze and instead come over and rub against my finger.

Which is nice, but doesn't get those flies caught.
posted by jaguar at 4:36 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Pointing gets the tip of my finger sniffed. I have to pretend to throw the thing to get them to turn and look for it.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:50 PM on May 21


Pointing gets the tip of my finger sniffed.

Yes, and very politely, as though my cat is trying to humor me.

My cat doesn't hang out with me when I'm especially down or sick, but I like to think that's because she's giving me the courtesy of some personal space while I get myself together. She doesn't like to be cuddled or hassled when she's not feeling her best, either.

If there's a bug around, she'll also go sit by it and look from me to it, waiting for me to "show her" how to catch it. Katya is adorable but sometimes I wish she would take a bit more initiative.

Dogs are wonderful but I've never had one myself, and don't think I ever will, because they're just so emotionally exhausting. On the other hand, I'm sitting her wracking my brains trying to find suitable toys to engage my pet fish, so it's probably me who's exhausting and not the dogs.
posted by rue72 at 4:58 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


I imagine the dog empathy thing is like empathy in humans. Some have more, some have less. I swear to god our youngest is a fucking sociopath sometimes.
posted by charred husk at 5:21 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


My dog shows deep empathy, licking my tears or putting his snout on me when he senses I'm distraught. When I'm depressed, he rarely leaves my side, following me to the bathroom and the kitchen and back to the couch.

Veterinary techs are amazed when they draw blood from his little paw and he softly licks their hands, like he knows it's hurting them too.
posted by danabanana at 5:25 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


My previous dog (The Best Dog In The World) was wonderfully empathetic and would rush to comfort anyone who seemed the least bit down.

At the same time I had TBDITW, I also had the Antichrist, a large tux cat that was born in my bedroom closet when I was in college and who spent the next dozen years working out new ways to be an asshole. One time I was sitting on the sofa, crying over something, and to my great surprise the Antichrist stalked over and gave me a gentle head bump. I looked up, he sat there on the sofa arm steadily gazing into my eyes until one last sob escaped me, then he smacked me upside the head. Thus I learned the extent of cat empathy.
posted by jamaro at 5:53 PM on May 21 [19 favorites]


We also overestimate human intelligence, judging by the related headline at the bottom of the page: "Three people, 24 cats and 5,600 dogs fall sick due to pet food."
posted by mudpuppie at 4:47 PM on May 21


Sometimes people eat pet food because they can't afford people food, not because they're unintelligent.

I learned this watching the show Good Times.
posted by magstheaxe at 5:58 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Sorry, 2bucksplus, that pose is cobra. It's a really good cobra, though!
posted by cooker girl at 6:08 PM on May 21


The empathy thing is very much individual, but the fact that it's even a question whether dogs feel empathy is mind boggling to me. I know there's a perception that dog people 'anthropomorphize' their pets, and I know that many of them do. (And yes, I challenge the notion that empathy is a uniquely human trait and that animals are strictly out to further their material interests. We both do both!) But of course animals feel empathy and actually care about others.

I've had several different dogs, all with different traits and abilities, but one of the dogs I have right now is likely the most empathetic creatures I've ever known, human or dog. She reads others' emotions (dogs and humans, even cats) masterfully, and always seems to figure out how to best approach someone to help them feel better. I think of her as kind of a freelance therapy dog. She doesn't just have the ability to read people's emotions, but she seems to genuinely care and want to make them feel better.

I'm not the greatest at reading subtle emotional cues myself, and this might sound crazy, but I trust that dog's judgment. If you make her nervous, you'll make me nervous. If she loves you, I'll take that under advisement. And if we already know you, and she seems to be approaching you gingerly and trying to comfort you, I'll try to be a little extra gentle with you that day, too, because I assume she's seeing something I'm not. And I haven't seen her be wrong yet.

I just can't wrap my head around the conceit that humans are empathetic and dogs aren't.
posted by ernielundquist at 6:18 PM on May 21 [7 favorites]


I must have an unusual cat, as she does, in fact, understand the basic concept of pointing (either "go look" or "jump up there"). Of course, she also politely arranges herself in the most convenient position to have her subcutaneous fluids injected, so perhaps she really is weird.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:34 PM on May 21


Anyone who says animals have no emotions must never have spent time with them.

Then there's the more disturbing possibility that such people are equally uninterested in reading emotions in other humans.
posted by obliterati at 8:07 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


Cross species play is a better example of theory of mind to me, than same species play.

I wonder if there's ever been legit study into that premise. I imagine it would be really hard to reproduce, but that's a really strong idea.
posted by DigDoug at 6:46 AM on May 22


Descartes considered animals simple, mindless robots; David Hume said he thought it was so obvious animals had thoughts and emotions like those of human beings he was slightly embarassed to present an argument that seemed so unnecessary.

Of course, those two views aren't necessarily in opposition.
posted by forgetful snow at 7:26 AM on May 22


I'm seeing a lot of interpretation of dog behavior here, but so far no has explained what it means when my dog nonchalantly saunters over and sits on my foot. Just plops his butt right down and then gazes off into the middle distance. Is he trying to comfort me, or himself? Is he trying to get my attention? Is his backside cold? Is a dominance thing, like "HAHA! Foolish human, I claim your foot with this, my butt-flag!" Why does he seem surprised when I do not want him sitting on my foot?
posted by Panjandrum at 8:11 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I think it's sweet when dogs come over and sit on my foot -- my assumption is that the dog wants to be close to me -- so I am also surprised that you do not want him sitting on your foot. I think the problem here is that it is your behavior that requires interpretation, sir.
posted by jaguar at 9:03 AM on May 22


Panjandrum: Some humans emit dog euphoia from their feet. At least that's what Ms. nobeagle says any time that one of our dogs are sitting or standing on my feet. Never the kids' feet, or her feet, but they love standing on mine.

More strictly speaking, ddg says that it's an act of dominance by the animal "pinning" or being "on top" of the human. I'm not sure I buy that in the cases I've seen it from my dogs, as they don't do the other associated behaviors (leaning against me, talking back, going through doors ahead of me). But it also could just be that I've trained away those behaviors, but left the foot-sitting so they take what they can get.
posted by nobeagle at 9:09 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


I have found that many animal behaviors, especially from dogs, get labeled "dominance behaviors" when researchers or trainers either don't know what motivates the behavior or just don't like the behavior. I'm automatically wary of any one behavior being interpreted as a display of "dominance."

I can't find the interview, but I seem to remember the author of Evolution's Rainbow saying that scientists wrote off same-sex sexual behavior among wild animals as "dominance positioning" because they had such a blind-spot against homosexual behavior being normal that it didn't occur to them that that's what was going on. I think the linked article is a similar reminder that not all animal behavior is motivated exclusively by concerns about hierarchy or reproduction.
posted by jaguar at 9:25 AM on May 22 [4 favorites]


« Older Wait... Axl Rose?   |   Lowering the Bar Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post