Canine Maternal Behavior


Canine maternal behavior is more than just feeding the pups. It is also to teach them dog language (Illustration by Alice Rasmussen from "Dog Language" by Roger Abrantes). Canine maternal behavior is more than just feeding the pups. It is also to teach them dog language (Illustration by Alice Rasmussen from “Dog Language” by Roger Abrantes).


Watching dog mothers take care of their pups continues to fascinate me, and the large populations of village dogs in Africa and Thailand, where I spent and spend a great deal of my time, provides me with plenty of opportunities to do it. Village dogs are domestic dogs, not wild dogs. Often classified as stray dogs by the inept, ignorant eye of the western tourist, these dogs perform an important task in their communities of humans and their domestic animals.

Maternal behavior is behavior shown by a mother toward her offspring. In most species, it is the mother that primarily takes care of the youngsters, and the dog is no exception. Natural selection has favored the evolution of this particular behavior of the females.

In wild canids, although it is mostly the female that takes care of the puppies, the father (also called the alpha male) and other adults do become interested in the feeding and raising of the puppies when they begin emerging from the den. In the studies my team did in the 80s, our dogs showed the same pattern in a domestic set-up.

Maternal behavior is, thus, almost identical in wild a canids and domestic dogs. Immediately after birth, the mother dries the puppies, keeps them warm, feeds them and licks them clean. The maternal behavior right after birth is controlled by hormonal processes and problems may occur if the female gives birth too early. On the other hand, pseudo-pregnancy causes females to undergo hormonal changes which may elicit maternal behavior in various degrees. Maternal behavior seems to be self-reinforcing. Studies show that the levels of dopamine increase in the nucleus accumbens (a region of the brain) when a female displays maternal behavior.

When the puppies become older, the mother begins to educate them. She gives them the first lessons in dog language about the time weaning begins. Growling, snarling and the various pacifying behaviors are inborn, but the puppies need to learn their function.

The canine mother has three main tasks: (1) to feed the puppies, first with her own milk, then by regurgitation, (2) to keep them clean and warm, especially when they are very young, and (3) to educate the puppies.

A good canine mother is patient and diligent. When the puppies grow, dog owners often misunderstand the mother’s apparently more violent educational methods. She may growl at them and even attack them, but she never harms them. Muzzle grabbing (see illustrations) is fairly common. Without the mother’s intervention, the puppies would never become capable social animals and would not be able to function properly in a pack (a group of wild dogs living together is in English called a pack). When the puppies are about 8-10 weeks old, the mother seems to lose some of her earlier interest in them. In normal circumstances, the rest of the pack, then, takes over the continuing education of the puppies, their social integration in the group (which probably mostly consists of relatives) and their protection.

Dog owners sometimes report problems, e.g. that the mother has no interest in her puppies, or is too violent towards them. These problems are mainly due to our selective breeding (we select for beauty and utility while nature selects for overall fitness, hereby included adequate maternal behavior) and to our lack of understanding of the mother’s needs during and after birth, which often result in the female showing stress, insecurity or aggressive behavior.

Maternal effect is the mother’s influence on her puppies. It can have such an impact on certain behavior patterns that it can be difficult to distinguish between maternal effect and the effect of genetics. For example, observations have shown that a female reacting too nervously or fearfully toward certain sounds may affect her puppies into developing sound phobias beyond what we would expect given the puppies’ specific genotype. The strong influence of the maternal effect on the behavior of her puppies is the main reason why it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to assess the hereditary coefficient for particular traits.

Bottom-line: Do not breed females that you suspect will not show reliable maternal behavior. Do not disturb a female with her pups more than absolutely necessary. A good canine mother knows better than you what’s best for her pups.

As always, enjoy a peaceful day,



  • Abrantes, R. 1997. The Evolution of Canine Social Behavior. Wakan Tanka Publishers.
  • Abrantes, R. 1997. Dog Language. Wakan Tanka Publishers.
  • Coppinger, R. and Coppinger, L. 2001. Dogs: a Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution. Scribner.
  • Darwin, C. 1872. The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals. John Murray (the original edition).
  • Fox, M. 1972. Behaviour of Wolves, Dogs, and Related Canids. Harper and Row.
  • Lopez, Barry H. (1978). Of Wolves and Men. J. M. Dent and Sons Limited.
  • Mech, L. D. 1970. The wolf: the ecology and behavior of an endangered species. Doubleday Publishing Co., New York.
  • Mech, L. David (1981). The Wolf: The Ecology and Behaviour of an Endangered Species. University of Minnesota Press.
  • Mech, L. D. 1988. The arctic wolf: living with the pack. Voyageur Press, Stillwater, Minn.
  • Mech. L. D. and Boitani, L. 2003. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. University of Chicago Press.
  • Scott, J. P. and Fuller, J. L. 1998. Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog. University of Chicago Press.
  • Zimen, E. 1975. Social dynamics of the wolf pack. In The wild canids: their systematics, behavioral ecology and evolution. Edited by M. W. Fox. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York. pp. 336-368.
  • Zimen, E. 1982. A wolf pack sociogram. In Wolves of the world. Edited by F. H. Harrington, and P. C. Paquet. Noyes Publishers, Park Ridge, NJ.

為了讓你跟狗狗可以快樂地在一起 “16件別再這麼做的事情”

譯者 translator: 林明勤 ( Ming Chin Lin) — from the original in English “16 Things You Should Stop Doing In Order To Be Happy With Your Dog

Roger Abrantes in 1986 howling with husky.

Cover photo from the author’s book from 1986 “Hunden, vor ven” (The Dog, Our Friend) (photo by Ole Suszkievicz).


1.  別再過度挑剔—別擔心,享受過程吧。 Stop being fussy—don’t worry, be happy

如同對於我們生命中的大部分事物來說, 當一個完美主意者是有其優點及其缺點的。當你養了一隻狗,你的生活會傾向莫非定律的模式 。任何會出差錯的事情將會出差錯。因為事情總有變數,也因此事情的發展很少百分之百如你期望的方式進行。您能夠做的也應該做的則是計畫並訓練,但需要做好準備的是,在沒有任何人(狗)會受傷的情況下,接受所有各種變動性、臨時性以及微小的事故。畢竟,在大部分的情況來說,比”完美”差一點點的往往都比”做的好”來的更好,所以為何要擔心做到完美呢?”完美”,這個僅存在於您腦袋裡的概念並不會讓任何人都開心,不論是對您或者您的狗兒來說都是。

2. 別老是太嚴肅—笑一下吧!Stop being too serious—have a laugh


3. 停止你想要控制任何事情的慾望—當狀況發生時,接受它。Stop your desire to control everything—take it as it comes

當您用莫非定律來決定您與狗兒的生活方式時,如果您企圖控制您的狗兒的每一個行動, 您最後得到的會是潰瘍或者陷入失望、沮喪之中。放棄您需要控制一切的想法。當然地,您應該要在安全的考量下,有理智地控制管理好狗狗,不過您應該將一些對生活或者死亡無關緊要的事物給拋在腦後。

4. 別再”散撥”你的責罵—繼續前進。 Stop apportioning blame—move on



5. 別再去相信關於狗狗的祖先是狼的傳言。 Stop believing in old wives’ tales—be critical

這世界上充滿的許多不合理的、毫無根據的狗狗的狼祖先傳言。這些日子來,網路提供了一個快速及簡易的管道讓我們可以獲得許多珍貴的資訊,同時也有很多是垃圾: 不好的觀點、不好的定義、未經證實的申明、謬論、情緒化的呈述、偽科學、促銷活動、被隱藏的政治議程、宗教道義等。當然,以表達個人言論的自由來說,我相信任何人都可發佈任何自己想要表達的看法,甚至單純地就一派胡言。但您和我都有權不去相信它、有權去漠視它。運用您的批判性思考。不要停止問自己“這怎麼有辦法發生“及“他/她是怎麼得到結論的?“ 直到您有時間好好深深地思考之後,才停止你的批判及行動。如果有必要,則尋求第二或者第三者的看法。如果這個論點非常可靠並且你喜歡,那麼就可以這麼做;如果這個論點很可愛但你不喜歡它,那麼就不要做,並且想的仔細一點;假如那個觀點不可靠,那就拒絕它並且不要再想了;為你自己做下決定並做你認為對的事情。

6. 別在意標籤—別憂慮!Stop caring about labels—be free


7. 別再去管別人怎麼想—過你自己的!Stop caring about what others think—live your life


8. 停止抱怨—不要浪費你的時間。 Stop complaining—don’t waste your time


9.  別再為自己找藉口。 Stop excusing yourself—be yourself

您不需要為您的作風或者您的狗兒找合理化的藉口。只要在您不打擾任何人(狗)的狀況下,您有權做您喜歡的方式並且作你自己。您不需要對任何事都非常擅長,不論是服從訓練、敏捷犬、與狗共舞、在音樂中讓狗狗腳側行進、飛球活動、護衛犬、牧羊犬、嗅覺活動、動物輔助治療、雪橇犬比賽、跳水狗活動、Field、Earthdog、Rally-O、Weight Pulling、Carting、Trials、 Dock Dogs、Dog Diving、Disc Dogs、Ultimate Air Dogs、Super Retriever、Hang Time、Lure Course Racing or Treibball; 關於您做不到的事情,您不需為自己解釋不擅長的原因。當然,您也無需說明您的狗沒有標準坐姿的原因。另一方面,針對您想要改變並且能被改變的事物來努力;別把時間跟精力花在去想您不想要的、不需要的或無法改變的事物。無論您與您的狗享受的是什麼,就去做吧!只要您們喜歡,您跟狗狗才可以同時是快樂的。就是這麼簡單!

10. 別再為某些事難受立刻行動。 Stop feeling bad—act now


11. 停止您對於擁有的慾望───作伴!Stop your urge to own—be a mate


12. 停止依賴— 釋放自己。 Stop dependency—untie your self


13. 別把狗狗當作一個替代品—展現尊重。 Stop turning your dog into a substitute—show respect



14. 別試著合理化—請保持真實。 Stop rationalizing—be truthful


只要兩者能取得平衡,那麼就沒有任何問題。要對自己誠實 :


15. 別再去奢望那些你不能擁有的事物—對於當下所擁有的要感到開心。 Stop wanting what you can’t have—be happy with what you’ve got



16. 別再打擊你自己—跟著心意走。 Stop fighting yourself—follow your heart


生命是美好的!Life is great!


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Les 20 principes que tous les entraîneurs d’animaux doivent connaître

Traduit par Marie-France Langlois (from the original in English “The 20 Principles All Animal Trainers Must Know“).

En supplément : « Seize principes à l’intention des entraîneurs expérimentés » et « Les pratiques exemplaires »

"The 20 Principles" cover.

“The 20 Principles All Animals Trainers Must Know”

C’est la première fois qu’un de mes livres est publié en français et c’est avec grand plaisir que j’offre à mes lecteurs francophones un livre dans leur propre langue.

Ce petit livre de seulement 51 pages comprend des définitions, des explications et des exemples des processus impliqués dans l’entraînement des animaux.  Aux « 20 principes fondamentaux » j’ai ajouté un supplément de 16 principes à l’intention des entraîneurs expérimentés. Bien sûr l’apprentissage chez les animaux ne se réduit pas à ces 36 principes, mais en pratique l’entraîneur qui les comprend et peut les appliquer correctement, réussira sans doute.

Comme toujours, je vais corriger et améliorer ce livre dès que je découvre des erreurs ou de meilleures façons d’expression. Donc, je vous recommande de consulter cette page régulièrement.

Première édition.

J’espère que vous passerez un bon moment avec votre lecture.


PS—Ce livre est gratuit pour votre lecture online sur votre ordinateur. S’il vous plaît, ne me demandez pas d’ajouter la possibilité d’impression; j’aime des livres, mais j’aime aussi bien les arbres de notre planète. Nous prévoyons des versions pour iPad et Kindle bientôt.

Cliquez sur le  « icône mode plein écran » pour une meilleure lisibilité . Zoom avant et arrière comme vous le souhaitez.


Sorry, this book is no longer available here. Please, visit Ethology Institute’s Online Bookstore.

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Os 20 princípios que todos os treinadores de animais devem conhecer

Traduzido pelo autor e Nor Abrantes (from the original in English “The 20 Principles All Animal Trainers Must Know“).

com os suplementos “Mais 16 princípios para o treinador avançado” e “Melhor prática”

"Os 20 princípios" cover

“Os 20 princípios que todos os treinadores de animais devem conhecer”

É a primeira vez que um livro meu, se bem que pequeno, aparece traduzido em português. É para mim razão de contentamento poder oferecer ao meus leitores um livro na língua dos meus ancestrais.

Este livro é um livro de ciência; não é um livro de moral ou ética. Tudo o que encontrará aqui não reflete uma atitude moral, uma escola de pensamento, nem a minha opinião pessoal. Eu dou-lhe o que a ciência descobriu e sabe sobre a aprendizagem animal tão objetivamente como possível. Cabe a si decidir se intende usar um processo ou outro, formar a sua própria “melhor prática,” resolver os seus conflitos éticos e desenvolver o seu estilo pessoal.

Como sempre, irei corrigir e melhorar este livro assim que descobrir erros ou melhores modos de expressão. Aconselho-o, portanto, a voltar regularmente a esta página.

Esta é a primeira edição.

Espero que passe umas boas horas com a sua leitura.


PS—Este livro é grátis para ler no seu computador online. Por favor, não me peça para adicionar a possibilidade de o imprimir; por muito que goste de livros, também gosto muito das árvores do nosso planeta. Estamos a planear versões para iPad e Kindle para breve.

Clique o “full-screen view icon” para uma melhor leitura. Zoom in and out como deseja.


Sorry, this book is no longer available here. Please, visit Ethology Institute’s Online Bookstore.

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The 20 Principles All Animal Trainers Must Know

with “16 More Principles For The Advanced Animal Trainer” and “Best Practice”

"The 20 Principles" cover.

“The 20 Principles All Animals Trainers Must Know”

This is the first edition of “The 20 Principles That All Animal Trainers Must Know.” This booklet is in a way a super concentrated course in animal learning and, although only 28 pages long, it will take you time to read and digest. Don’t rush thru it.

I wrote “The 20 Principles” in plain English so it should be accessible to all readers. Of course, I use technical terms, but they shouldn’t pose any problem for any reader because I define them all carefully and with examples.

I will update this booklet as necessary. Come back regularly to check if there are any updates.

v. 3 uploaded 09.03.13: clarification of the difference between conditional/unconditional and conditioned/unconditioned.

v. 2 uploaded 04.03.13: new cover and back cover, minor text improvements to improve clarity.

First edition v. 1 uploaded 04.02.13

Enjoy your reading!


PS—This is a free e-book for you to read on your computer. Please, don’t ask me for the possibility to print it, for as much as I love books, I also care for the trees of our planet. We’re planning versions for iPad and Kindle to be available soon.

Click the full-screen view icon for better reading. Zoom in and out as you please.


Sorry, this book is no longer available here. Please, visit Ethology Institute’s Online Bookstore.

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16 cosas que debería dejar de hacer para tener una vida más feliz con tu perro

Roger Abrantes in 1986 howling with husky.

Foto de la portada del libro del autor de 1986 “Hunden, vor ven” (“El Perro, Nuestro Amigo”) (foto de Ole Suszkievicz). 

16 Things You Should Stop Doing In Order To Be Happy With Your Dog” traducido del Inglés por Victor Ros.

Aquí tienes una lista de 16 cosas que debería dejar de hacer para tener una vida con tu perro más feliz y una relación más fuerte. ¿Difícil? Para nada. Sólo necesitas querer hacerlo y, a continuación, simplemente hacerlo. Puede comenzar tan pronto como termines de leer esto.

1. Deja de ser quisquilloso—No te preocupes y sé feliz (don’t worry, be happy)

Como la mayor parte de cosas en la vida, ser un perfeccionista tiene sus ventajas y desventajas. Cuando posees un perro, tiendes a vivir según la Ley de Murphy. Cualquier cosa que puede ir mal irá mal. Hay tantos variables que las cosas rara vez van 100% la manera esperada. Puedes y debes planear y entrenar, pero tienes que estar preparado para aceptar todo tipo de variaciónes, improvisaciones y pequeños percances a lo largo del camino, siempre que nadie se haga daño, por supuesto. ¿Después de todo, en la mayor parte de situaciones, menos que perfecto es mejor que bueno, entonces, por qué la preocupación sobre la perfección, un concepto que sólo existe en tu cabeza y no hace a nadie feliz, ni a ti, ni a tu perro?

2. Deja de ser demasiado serioRíete (have a laugh)

Si no tienes buen sentido del humor, no vivas con un perro. Ser propietario de perro da ocasión a contratiempos donde la risa es la mejor salida. Los contratiempos sólo son embarazosas en nuestras mentes. Tu perro no sabe siquiera lo que quiere decir verguenza, deberias seguir su ejemplo. Mientras nadie se haga daño, riete de los errores que cometeis tu y tu perro.

3. Deten tu deseo de controlarlo todo—Tomarlo como viene (take it as it comes)

Cuando la vida con un perro es a menudo dictada por la ley de Murphy, si intenta controlar cada movimiento de tu perro, acabara con una úlcera o caeras en una depresión. Renuncie tu necesidad de control. Por supuesto, debe tener un control razonable sobre tu perro por razones de seguridad, pero debe dejar ir todo aquello que no es una cuestión de vida o muerte. Reglas razonables sirven un propósito, pero el control total es innecesaria y contraproducente. Tomarlo como viene y seguir sonriendo!

4. Deja de imputar la culpa—Avanzar (move on)

Cuando las cosas van mal, y lo harán, les aseguro, no pierda el tiempo repartiendo culpas. ¿Fue tu culpa, culpa del perro, o culpa del gato del vecino? ¿A quién le importa? Sigue adelante aunque toda la escena te produjo tristeza, intenta prever una situación similar en el futuro y como evitarlo. Si no ha sido gran cosa, olvidate del asunto.

5. Deja de creer en los cuentos de vieja crítico (be critical)

El mundo está lleno de cuentos de viejas, irracionales y sin fundamento. Hoy día, el Internet nos proporciona rápido y fácil acceso a mucha información valiosay tambien un montón de basura: malos argumentos, malas definiciones, reclamaciones infundadas, falacias, estados emocionales, pseudociencia, promociones de ventas, agendas políticas ocultas, predicaciónes religiosos, etc… Por supuesto, en nombre de la libertad de expresión, creo todos deberían poder publicar cualquierles gusta, incluso la bazofia más pura y más refinada, pero tanto yo como tu también tenemos el derecho a no creernoslo, haciendo caso omiso de ello. Utilice tu pensamiento crítico. No deje de preguntar “¿Cómo puede ser?” y “¿Cómo llegó a esa conclusión?” Suspende el juicio y la acción hasta que hayas tenido tiempo para reflexionar, si es necesario, busca una segunda o tercera opinión. Si el argumento es sólido y le gusta, entonces hágalo. Si el argumento es sólido pero no te gusta, no hacerlo y pensar más sobre ello. Si el argumento es poco sólido, rechazalo y no pienses más sobre ello. Convencete a ti mismo y haz lo que piensas es correcto.

6. Deja de preocuparte por etiquetas—Sé libre (be free)

Estamos sobre-inundados por las etiquetas porque las etiquetas venden, pero sólo venden si los compramos. ¿Deberias ser positivo, ultra-positivo, R+, R++, R+ P-, equilibrado, naturalista, moralista, conservador, realista, progresivo, o dueño clickeriano o autoritario del perro? Deje de preocuparte sobre qué etiqueta debe portar. Cuando disfrutas de un gran momento con tu perro, la etiqueta que llevas es irrelevante. Una etiqueta es una carga; te restringe y te quita tu libertad. Las etiquetas son para personas inseguras que necesitan esconderse detrás de una imagen. Cree en ti mismo, sea el tipo de propietario de perro que quieres ser y no necesitará etiquetas.

7. Deja de preocuparte sobre lo que piensan los demás—Vive tu vida (live your life)

Pasas muy poco tiempo con la mayoría de la gente que conoces, significativamente más con la familia y amigos cercanos, pero vives toda la vida contigo mismo. Así que, ¿qué importa lo que otras personas piensan acerca de su habilidad como propietario de perro, o del comportamiento de tu perro, cuando es probable que no les veas de nuevo o sólo les veremos esporádicamente? Si les gusta tu y tu perro, bien. Si no, realmente no es tu problema.

8. Deja de quejarte—No pierdas tu tiempo (don’t waste your time)

Sólo tienes un problema cuando hay una discrepancia entre la forma en que las cosas son y lo que esperas que sean. Si tus expectativas son realistas, probar de hacer algo para alcanzarlas. Si no lo son, deja de quejarte, es un desperdicio de tiempo y energía. Si puede hacer algo al respecto, hazlo. Si no puedes, sigue adelante. Punto.

9. Deja de pedir disculpas—Sé tu mismo (be yourself)

No tienes que pedir disculpas ni por ti ni por tu perro por la forma en que sois. Mientras no molesteis a nadie, podeis hacer lo que querais y ser quien quereis ser. No tienes que ser bueno en nada, como Obedience, Agility, Musical Free Style, Heel Work to Music, Flyball, Frisbee Dog, Earth Dog, Ski-Joring, Bike-Joring, Earthdog, Rally-O, Weight Pulling, Carting, Schutzhund, Herding, Nose Work, Therapy, Field Trials, Dock Dogs, Dog Diving, Disc Dogs, Ultimate Air Dogs, Super Retriever, Splash Dogs, Hang Time, Lure Course Racing, Sled Dog Racing or Treibball; y no necesitas excusarte por ello. No hay que escusarse tampoco si tu perro no sabe sentar bien. Cambia lo que quieras y puedas cambiar y no pierdas tiempo y energia pensando sobre lo que no quieres, no necesitas o no puedas cambiar. Haz lo que tu y tu perro os gusta, como querais hacerlo, asi los dos resultais contentos. Es tan simple como eso!

10. Deja de sentirte mal—Actua ahora (act now)

Si no estás conforme con algún aspecto de tu vida con tu perro, haz algo para cambiarlo. Identifique el problema y establezca un objetivo, haz un plan e implementalo. Sentirse mal y culpable no ayuda a nadie—esto no te ayudara ni a ti, ni a tu perro, o los que mas quieres y con quienes compartes tu vida.

11. Pare tu impulso de poseer—Sé un compañero (be a mate)

La propiedad de los seres vivos es esclavitud; y afortunadamente la esclavitud ha sido abolido No te consideres como el dueño de tu perro. Piensa en tu perro como un compañero del cual eres responsable. No posees a tus hijos, tu pareja y tampoco tus amigos.

12. Detener la dependencia—Desatate (untie your self)

Amor nada tiene que ver con la dependencia, obsesión y el deseo, sino todo lo contrario. Ame su perro, pero no creas una dependencia mutua. Tenga vida propia y dé a su perro algún espacio. Tu perro y tu sois dos individuos independientes. Disfrute de vivir juntos como personas independientes, no siendo enviciado el uno al otro. Deje de proyectarse en su perro.

13. Deja de convertir tu perro en un sustituto—Muestra respeto  (show respect)

Un perro es un perro y en efecto es un notable ser vivo. Ámelo, disfrute de su compañía, pero no le haga un sustituto para un compañero humano, un amigo, un hijo o un cónyuge. Esperar que cualquiera pueda ser un sustituto es el mayor desrespeto que pueda cometer tanto hacia otro humano como hacia cualquier animal no humano, y a ti mismo. Dejarle cesar al perro en seguirte tu guion y comienza a amarlo como el perro que es.

14. Deja de racionalizar—Sé sincero (be truthful)

Todas las relaciones son intercambios: das y tomas. No hay nada malo con esto mientras hay equilibrio. Tienes que ser honesto contigo mismo: Que te da tu perro y que le das a tu perro? Si ves que uno de los dos es mayoritariamente uno que da o recibe, piensalo y reestablece el equilibrio. Tu perro te necesita tanto como tu a el, y no hay nada malo en ello, mientras los dos daís y recibís. No teneis el perro solo para salvar el pobre, pequeña criatura. Tienes el perro para que ambos podais gozar de una relacion solida y fructifera.

15. Deja de querer lo que no puede tenerSé feliz con lo que tiene (be happy with what you’ve got)

Esto es una característica humana muy común: siempre quiere lo que no tiene y es ciego a todo el bien que realmente tiene. Tu perro ya te da muchisimo y los dos podeis ser absolutamente felices juntos, aun cuando tu perro no es particularmente bueno en algo. Es asombroso como los dueños de perros suelen decir que ellos aman sus perros y aún asi pasan la mayor parte del tiempo tratando de cambiar su comportamiento. Concéntrese en lo que tiene, no en lo que no, aprécielo y agradezelo.

16. Deja de luchar contratigo mismo—Siga tu corazon (follow your heart)

Hay muchas maneras de ser un buen propietario de perro y el tuyo es unico y diferente a todos los demás. Es tu vida. Mientras que no perjudique a nadie, viva en la forma que te siente bien. Escuche a expertos, reflexione sobre su consejo, pero, al final de día, haga lo que siente es correcto para tí, siga tu corazón.

La vida es grande!


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16 Things You Should Stop Doing In Order To Be Happy With Your Dog

Roger Abrantes in 1986 howling with husky.

Cover photo from the author’s book from 1986 “Hunden, vor ven” (The Dog, Our Friend) (photo by Ole Suszkievicz).

Here is a list of 16 things you should stop doing in order to make life with your dog happier and your relationship stronger. Difficult? Not at all. You just need to want to do it and then simply do it. You can begin as soon as you finish reading this.

1. Stop being fussy—don’t worry, be happy

Like most things in life, being a perfectionist has its advantages and disadvantages. When you own a dog, you tend to live by Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. There are so many variables that things seldom go 100% the way you expect. You can and should plan and train, but be prepared to accept all kinds of variations, improvisations and minor mishaps along the way as long as no one is injured, of course. After all, in most situations less than perfect is better than good, so why worry about perfection, a concept that only exists in your head and doesn’t make anyone happy, neither you nor your dog?

2. Stop being too serious—have a laugh

If you don’t have a good sense of humor, don’t live with a dog. Dog ownership gives rise to many mishaps where laughter is the best way out. Mishaps are only embarrassing in our minds. Your dog doesn’t even know what embarrassment is and you should follow its example. As long as no one gets hurt, just laugh at you and your dog’s mistakes.

3. Stop your desire to control everything—take it as it comes

When life with a dog is often dictated by Murphy’s Law, if you attempt to control your dog’s every move, you’ll end up with an ulcer or fall into a depression. Give up your need to control. Of course, you should have reasonable control over your dog for safety’s sake, but you should let go of anything that is not a matter of life or death. Reasonable rules serve a purpose, but total control is unnecessary and self-defeating. Take it as it comes and keep smiling!

4. Stop apportioning blame—move on

When things go wrong, and they will, I assure you, don’t waste your time apportioning blame. Was it your fault, the dog’s fault, or the neighbor’s cat’s fault? Who cares? Move on and, if you found the scenario all rather upsetting, try to foresee a similar situation in the future and avoid it. If it was no big deal, forget about it.

5. Stop believing in old wives’ tales—be critical

The world is full of irrational, unfounded old wives’ tales. These days, the Internet provides us with quick and easy access to a lot of valuable information—and a lot of junk as well: bad arguments, bad definitions, unsubstantiated claims, fallacies, emotional statements, pseudo-science, sales promotions, hidden political agendas, religious preaching, etc. Of course, in the name of freedom of expression, I believe everyone should be allowed to post whatever they like, even the purest and most refined crap—but both you and I also have the right not to believe it, to disregard it. Use your critical thinking. Don’t stop asking yourself  “How can that be?” and “How did he/she come to that conclusion?” Suspend judgment and action until you have had time to ponder on it and, if necessary, seek a second and third opinion. If the argument is sound and you like it, then do it. If the argument is sound but you don’t like it, don’t do it and think more about it. If the argument is unsound, reject it and think no more about it. Make up your own mind and do what you think is right.

6. Stop caring about labels—be free

We are over swamped by labels because labels sell, but they only sell if you buy them. Should you be a positive, ultra-positive, R+, R++, R+P-, balanced, naturalistic, moralistic, conservative, realistic, progressive, clickerian or authoritarian dog owner? Stop caring about what label you should bear. When you enjoy a great moment with your dog, the label you bear is irrelevant. A label is a burden; it restricts you and takes away your freedom. Labels are for insecure people that need to hide behind an image. Believe in yourself, be the type of dog owner you want to be and you won’t need labels.

7. Stop caring about what others think—live your life

You spend very little time with most of the people you meet, significantly more with family and close friends, but you live your whole life with yourself. So, why care about what other people think about your ability as a dog owner or your dog’s behavior, when you probably won’t see them again or will only ever see them sporadically? If they like you and your dog, fine. If they don’t, it’s really not your problem.

8. Stop complaining—don’t waste your time

You only have a problem when there is a discrepancy between the way things are and the way you expect them to be. If your expectations are realistic, try and do something about achieving them. If they’re not, stop complaining, it’s a waste of time and energy. If you can do something about it, do it. If you can’t, move on. Period.

9. Stop excusing yourself—be yourself

You don’t have to excuse yourself or your dog for the way you are. As long as you don’t bother anyone, you are both entitled to do what you like and be the way you are. You don’t need to be good at anything, whether it be Obedience, Agility, Musical Free Style, Heel Work to Music, Flyball, Frisbee Dog, Earth Dog, Ski-Joring, Bike-Joring, Earthdog, Rally-O, Weight Pulling, Carting, Schutzhund, Herding, Nose Work, Therapy, Field Trials, Dock Dogs, Dog Diving, Disc Dogs, Ultimate Air Dogs, Super Retriever, Splash Dogs, Hang Time, Lure Course Racing, Sled Dog Racing or Treibball; and you don’t need excuses as to why not. You don’t even need to excuse the fact that your dog can’t sit properly. Change what you want to change and can change; and don’t waste time and energy thinking about what you don’t want to, don’t need to or can’t change. Do whatever you and your dog enjoy, however you like, so that both you and your dog are happy. It’s as simple as that!

10. Stop feeling bad—act now

If you’re unhappy with any particular aspect of your life with your dog, do something to change it. Identify the problem, set a goal, make a plan and implement it. Feeling bad and guilty doesn’t help anyone—it doesn’t help you, your dog, or the cherished ones you share your life with.

11. Stop your urge to own—be a mate

The ownership of living beings is slavery; and thankfully slavery was abolished. Don’t regard yourself as the owner of your dog. Think of your dog as a mate you are responsible for. You don’t own your children, your partner or your friends either.

12. Stop dependency—untie your self

Love has nothing to do with dependency, obsession and craving, quite the contrary. Love your dog but don’t create mutual dependency. Have a life of your own and give your dog some space. You and your dog are two independent individuals. Enjoy living together as free agents, not being addicted each other. Stop projecting yourself onto your dog.

13. Stop turning your dog into a substitute—show respect

A dog is a dog and it is indeed a remarkable living being. Love it, enjoy its company, but don’t make it a substitute for a human partner, a friend, a child or a spouse. To expect anyone to be a substitute is the greatest disrespect you can show to a human as well as non-human animal—and to yourself. Stop letting your dog play a role for you and begin to love your dog as a dog.

14. Stop rationalizing—be truthful

All relationships are trades: you give and you take. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as there is balance. Be honest with yourself: what does your dog give you and what do you give your dog? If you find that one of you is almost solely a giver or a taker, think about it and redress the balance. Your dog needs you, just as you need your dog and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you both are givers and takers. You didn’t get your dog just to save the poor, little creature. You got your dog so you could both enjoy a solid and fruitful partnership.

15. Stop wanting what you can’t have—be happy with what you’ve got

This is a very common human characteristic: you always want what you haven’t got and you are blind to all the good you do have. Your dog already gives you a great deal and the two of you can be perfectly happy together, even if your dog is not particularly good at anything. It’s amazing how dog owners say they love their dogs and yet they spend most of the time trying to change their behavior. Focus on what you do have, not on what you don’t, appreciate it and be grateful for it.

16. Stop fighting yourself—follow your heart

There are many different ways of being a good dog owner and yours is your own and different to everyone else’s. It’s your life. As long as you don’t harm anyone, live it the way that feels good for you. Listen to experts, ponder on their advice, but, at the end of the day, do what you feel is right for you, follow your heart. Be yourself.

Life is great!


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Handler Beliefs Do Not Affect Police Dog Detection Outcomes

GNR Officer and Police Dog

GNR officer and police dog (image by Roger Abrantes)

This is a scientific study, which is relevant to law enforcement, police dog handlers and anyone concerned with scent detection and particularly canine scent detection.

This study was conducted in 2011 at the GNR in Portugal by Roger Abrantes (PhD in Evolutionary Biology and Ethology, Ethology Institute Cambridge and special advisor to the GNR), Marco Costa Pinto (Major, Company Commander, GNR) Miguel Rodrigues (Captain, GNR) and Tiago Costa Pinto (Captain, GNR). The GNR (Guarda Nacional Republicana) is the Portuguese Military Academy trained Police.

Summary (abstract)

Our goal in this study was to evaluate how handler beliefs and other environmental stimuli influenced the indications given by police detection dogs.

We tested 16 teams: eight specialists in narcotics and eight specialists in explosives. The handlers were told that two conditions indicated with a paper marker could contain the target scent. Two of the search conditions contained decoy scents (food/toy) in order to test whether they would produce indications from the dogs. The search conditions were as follows: (1) no scent, (2) paper marker (red tape), (3) decoy scent, (4) paper marker at decoy scent, (5) target scent. The last condition was our way of controlling that the dogs were adequately trained and able to detect and indicate the desired target scents.

The dogs gave 59 incorrect indications. There were more clean runs in unmarked areas. In contrast, the distribution of clean runs did not differ between runs with or without decoy scents. No difference proved statistically significant.

Our conclusion is, therefore, that the dogs indicated the target scents independently of handler beliefs and decoy scents. Handler beliefs do seem to increase the number of false positives, but not in a statistically significant way. Decoy scents do not influence the number of indications given by the dogs.

In the condition containing a target scent, only one dog failed to detect or indicate it (the youngest, a one year old Labrador). This condition produced 10 false positives. These results are statistically significant, showing that the dogs do detect and indicate target scents and the handlers make the right calls.

You can read more about the parameters and conclusions of this study here.

Click the full-screen view icon for better reading. Zoom in and out as you please.

Odie The Pekinese: Awaiting On Death Row


Odie, an ugly duckling of a Pekinese, was awaiting his turn on death row. A twist of fate meant Odie survived his death sentence and, one year later, he had turned into a beautiful wolf.

Odie came to me on an odd day, one of those rainy, grey days, when the only thing you want to do is stay at home, listen to good music, watch the fire roaring in the fireplace, hold a hot cup of punch in your hands and feel sorry for yourself. Odie, an ugly duckling of a Pekinese, was awaiting his turn on death row. A twist of fate meant Odie survived his death sentence and, one year later, he had turned into a beautiful wolf.

I was sitting in my office at my desk, gazing absent-mindedly at a blank piece of paper lodged in my typewriter, which, unfortunately had been stuck there for far too long. I was suddenly wrenched from my thoughts when our vet knocked at the door. “Have you got a minute? ” she asked. I debated saying “No,” but overcame the temptation. She came in, accompanied by Odie’s owners, and explained the situation. Odie’s owners wanted to euthanize him, because they were sick of a particularly annoying behavior of his. He urinated all over the house and, when one day they found him cocking his leg up the impeccable flower arrangement they had proudly positioned in the middle of their much cherished, antique mahogany dining table, that was the last straw.

“Right on top of the table?” I asked them and they nodded solemnly.

I glanced down at Odie with newfound respect for it was no mean feat for an eight inch (20 cm) tall Pekinese to climb on top of a dining table in order to accomplish a vital mission. So I asked them if I could keep the dog instead of them euthanizing him. I would try to solve his problem and find a good home for him. They were overjoyed at my proposal and I thus found myself being the improbable owner of a Pekinese for the first, and no doubt last, time in my life.

I was on a very tight deadline to write an article. After giving Odie a quick once over, I turned back to my typewriter and the embarrassingly blank sheet of paper. I remember thinking “Gee, you’re a really ugly little fellow, I understand why they wanted to get rid of you.” Odie grunted once in return. I think he could take a bit of humor. I would take care of Odie later. My first priority was to fill that all too white sheet of paper with some wise words.

Once deeply submerged in writing my article (or not writing it as the case may be), it was then I heard an almost imperceptible sound that took a couple of seconds to register and identify. I spun round to the source of the sound and, to my astonishment, my suspicion was confirmed. Odie was peeing on my books on my bookshelf.

I am a peaceful person and it takes a lot to upset me. Being a child of the sixties, I accept everyone and almost everything; all is good as long as it doesn’t restrict my freedom. However, one thing I must confess I can’t take is having someone peeing on my beloved books. I don’t discriminate: nobody urinates on my books, period! My reaction was therefore pure reflex. I reached for the first thing I had at hand, ironically enough it was my first book about dog training and behavior “Psychology Rather Than Power” and, before I knew it, I had thrown it at Odie.

The book, a good quality hardback, landed with a smack right behind Odie. Taken by surprise, he yelped, performed a beautiful pirouette in the air and stood there looking baffled and bewildered, staring at my book. For my part, I remained quiet as a mouse, holding my breath. After a few seconds, Odie managed to compose himself. He approached the book, sniffed at it in a noisy, Pekinese manner, then sniffed at the books on my book shelf, before returning to my book on the floor, giving it another long and even noisier sniff and then, smacking his lips, he decided to lie down right next to the book. I returned to my tauntingly clean sheet of paper whilst keeping one eye on Odie.

Odie fell asleep, or so it seemed, and I finally began filling the blank sheet of paper with some meaningful words. A little later, whilst searching for something on my desk, I happened to knock a pencil over the edge and it fell on the floor, between the desk and that same book shelf, a source of so much knowledge and inspiration for me. Odie opened his big, bulging eyes, one looking right and the other looking left, and approached the pencil. I couldn’t see him or the pencil, but could hear him clearly, grunting, snuffling, puffing and panting. A few seconds later, maybe 15, he came around the desk directly towards me. He was holding the pencil in his mouth, each eye still looking in a different direction, one as wet as the other, dribble all over his face, with his head covered in balls of dust and fluff, reminding me that my office needed a good hoovering.

I stretched out my hand to him and automatically said “tak” (which means “thanks” in the Scandinavian languages and was my sound signal for “release”). Odie, with a grunt, promptly dropped the slimy pencil into my hand. I was impressed. Was that a “retrieval”? Did he really retrieve that pencil for me?

I was so baffled and curious that I proceeded to do something that fellow pencil lovers regard as the ultimate sin towards pencils. You never drop a pencil as it is highly likely you’ll break the lead inside, rendering it useless once sharpened a couple of times. I tossed the pencil so it fell in the same place between my desk and the book shelf; and once again, Odie ran (I think he was running, but don’t know for sure as I couldn’t see his short legs for all the fur), he grunted, snuffled, puffed and panted, rubbing one eye then the other along the floor in an effort to pick up the pencil and, in doing so, collected even more dust fluff. He wouldn’t give up, finally managed to take the pencil in his mouth and promptly returned it to me just as he had done before.

“Hallelujah!” I exclaimed despite my lack of religious conviction, “We have a retriever!” Joy filled my heart. The misery and self-pity the dull, grey day had imposed upon me ever since I had got out of bed that morning were gone like magic. Of all the activities I have undertaken with dogs, the one that has most amused me, and my dogs too it would seem, is without a shadow of doubt search and retrieve.

Odie never again urinated indoors, a fact we have discussed at some length. We are convinced it was the book incident that did it, due to the optimal coincidence of a series of conditions. Firstly, he was caught in the act (perfect timing), secondly, he did not associate the book falling behind him with me (instead with his own behavior), thirdly, the smack of the book falling on the floor had the right intensity to startle him (not too much, not too little), and fourthly, he associated the book aversive with his urinating behavior and nothing else (it happened when he urinated, it stopped when he stopped). No bad feelings towards books and (of course) no bad feelings from books towards him. Of course, the moral of this story is not that you should throw books at your dog. Let me say this loudly and clearly so no one gets it wrong: I do not recommend people throw books at their dogs. It worked in this case because of the coincidence of the many necessary conditions for it to work (as I explained) and that’s it.

I kept Odie and we all trained him. Sit, stand and, down were no problem at all, only difficult to observe for all the fur and short legs. We used treats as unconditioned reinforcers and my “dygtig” (as a semi-conditioned reinforcer), but he would do anything as long as we held a pencil in our hands (this was his reinforcer of choice). He would take the treats only because he was hungry. We put him on a program where he had to work for all his food and he worked a lot: no free food at all. Odie became very popular. His odd looks combined with his skills were an improbable combination in most people’s eyes. The staff at the Ethology Institute sometimes asked if they could take him home to show visiting friends. Odie never disappointed.

At the time, I was living in one of those enormous, old European mansions, like small castles, with three floors and endless of rooms. One particularly cold winter when the fields were covered by snow and ice, our cellar (basement) became a refuge for mice. This is very normal and we all know how to deal with the problem, except that I thought at the time it was more dignified for a mouse to die in battle than to be trapped or poisoned. Therefore, I introduced a hunting session every night at 8 pm after having read my son Daniel his bedtime story.

The nightly hunting session began with the troops, Petrine, Elanor (English Cocker Spaniels) and myself, assembling at the door to the cellar. Petrine and Elanor were skilled hunters so this was a good opportunity to stimulate them. Every evening we enacted the age-old game of predator and prey in the cellar of that big, old mansion house. Odie was always very keen to join us on our mission and, one evening, I decided to let him give it a go. Odie experienced his first hunt.

Odie quickly learned the rules of the game, although learn is perhaps the wrong term as it looked like he had always known and just had to be reminded. The first time, he went under a couch to chase a mouse, he took a long time. All I could hear was his usual grunting, snuffling, puffing, panting and the occasional high-pitched squeak from a mouse. I guess the mice were terrified of Odie’s looks combined with the spluttering, snorting and grunting. He came to me carrying his first mouse by a hind leg, the mouse completely stiff and wet, but very much alive. Odie became an efficient mouse hunter. He was quick and could squeeze into confined spaces for which the cockers were too big. Every evening, he was the first to reach our rendezvous point. He was there from around seven onwards, waiting patiently. He insisted on being the first to reach the bottom of the stairs to the cellar which was quite a spectacle for the steps were too steep for his all too short legs. He somehow managed to overtake the cockers on the way down, not running, but tumbling down amidst a cloud of dust and much snorting and grunting. The cockers just looked at him bemused. Up until then, our mission had been a well-planned military operation. Stealth, discipline, training, dedication and precise timing were our weapons. After Odie joined us, it all looked more like Asterix and Obelix against the Romans.

The days passed, one year passed, and Odie grew older and more experienced. I bet he could have won all kinds of competitions, but we never subjected him to that. By then he had become a great hunter, only limited by his physical characteristics, the ones us humans have bestowed upon him through selective breeding.

It was bound to happen sooner or later: one day someone came along that wanted to keep Odie. It was love at first sight when they saw his antics. When they asked me about his original problem, I couldn’t even remember what it was. I had completely forgotten, as had we all. After that first “attack” by my book, he had never again urinated indoors. Odie found a good home, one year after he had entered our lives.

I was sad to see him go. We all were. We often spoke fondly of him and made each other laugh by telling Odie stories. Odie had taught us invaluable lessons. First, that we should never judge anyone by their appearance. He was a little dog, short-legged, furry, flat-faced and cross-eyed, but he was a dog at heart like any other. None of us thought he was ugly, despite my initial horror. He was further evidence that many dogs develop problems because they are not treated as dogs; they are understimulated and their excess energy causes them to engage in any kind of activity, be it desirable or undesirable for the owners. He was a quick learner and an impeccable hunter with an enormous joy for life. Without words, he told us: “Respect and you shall be respected. I’m not a toy, not a thing, not a little human. I’m Odie, a Pekinese dog.”

14 years later, I went to give a talk in a town about 50 km from where I lived. During the break, a couple approached me and asked me if I remembered them. It took me a while, but I did recognize them. They were the new owners we had found for Odie. He was still alive, they informed me, but very old and tired by then. He no longer had any front teeth, as his love for retrieving hard objects had not waned over the years. They said they were getting ready for the day they would have to say goodbye to Odie and I saw their eyes well up.

Thinking of him, my eyes welled up too, Odie, the ugly duckling of a Pekinese that had turned into a beautiful wolf in my eyes and in the eyes of all those who had the privilege to know him. Thanks, Odie, my friend!

Be happy!


PS—I know that metamorphosis does not occur in canids and that a dog cannot turn into a wolf. I also know that a dog is a dog (Canis lupus familiaris) and not a wolf (Canis lupus lupus). Since this is a story with a point written for a blog, not a scientific article, I allow myself some artistic license when I write “Odie turned into a beautiful wolf.”

A Dog’s Self-Respect

Petrine retrieving bird.

Petrine, the English Cocker Spaniel, compelled me to ask: are intelligence, reasoning and self-respect only human features?

Did she cheat me? Did she manipulate me? Or was it a proof that my English Cocker Spaniel had a sense of self-respect; that dogs behave intelligently?

It happened long ago, but I still think about it, trying to find a plausible and scientifically correct explanation. My dogs have always been fun dogs, independent and skillful, but manipulative and naughty at the same time. It’s my fault. I’ve brought them up to be that way. I trained them because at the time (the beginning of the 1980s) I was keen on demonstrating that there were other ways of training dogs than the traditional, mostly compulsory and often forceful methods of the old school. Since I believed (and still do) that the best way to have someone change is not by forcing, persuading or convincing, but rather by showing attractive results, I trained my dogs to help me in this quest, and none more than Petrine, my female, red English Cocker Spaniel did so.

At the time, there was a very popular dog training series on TV called “No Bad Dogs the Woodhouse Way” with the unforgettable Barbara Woodhouse.  Those of a certain age will chuckle nostalgically when they hear inimitable “walkies.” Mrs. Woodhouse, born in 1910, was a charming, efficient lady who loved animals. She herself was not mean; it was just her methods that were forceful to say the least. Does this sound familiar? History repeats itself, as we well know! Instead of attacking her and her methods personally, or trying to argue for ways I thought were better, I found a better strategy: to channel the interest in dog training that Mrs. Woodhouse generated and present my own way as an alternative. Of course, I had to show results, I had to be able to teach the dogs the same things Mrs. Woodhouse so efficiently taught them. If I was successful and my methods were not only as efficient but more attractive, they would win the public’s favor. If I couldn’t achieve the same results she did, my way would not win. I went for it, confident that I could make dogs as “obedient” as Mrs. Woodhouse did, but using my own methods. To allow for an obvious comparison, I even used the terminology of the time, which I later felt entitled to change when my first book came out in 1984: from there on a “command” became a “signal,” “obedience” became “cooperation,” and “praise” became a “reinforcer.”

So, Petrine and I did a lot of “obedience” training together, even if we weren’t too keen on the fastidiousness of the process. We trained using motivation, treats, facial expressions as reinforcers, the word “dygtig,” later to be called a semi-conditioned verbal reinforcer and sometimes a whistle as a conditioned positive reinforcer (the precursor of the clicker); and together we won several obedience competitions.

At the time you didn’t see many Cockers competing and our victories did help to prove my point, but our achievements weren’t exactly a big surprise.  They were more like appetizers. What really did it was when we won a hunting-dog competition. That caused quite some stir in the dog-training community of that time because we beat all the smart, greenclad hunters with their pointers and the like. At the time, it was unthinkable that an English Cocker Spaniel (not only red, but female too!) and a longhaired, bearded, young fellow (in worn-out Levi’s and clogs just to top it off) could beat the establishment. Well, we did! That day of fame and infamy set me on a career path I could never have imagined.  Training in a new way, the “psychology rather than power” way rather than the Woodhouse way, we made it into newspapers, magazines, TV and radio, and to be on TV was a big thing at the time. Inevitably, we were heroes for some and villains for others, but my message had been conveyed as the first edition of my first book, entitled (of course) “Psychology Rather Than Power” which showed a completely different way of training dogs based on ethology and the scientific principles of animal learning, sold out in three months. It was a victory for psychology rather than power in more than one way, as it also proved my point that showing results works better than arguing, persuading, convincing or forcing.

Petrine was indeed an amazing dog. She taught me most of the important things I know about dogs, but she also taught me about life, respect and affection. As I said before, I trained her because it was necessary, but I must confess that I never liked the training as much as the interaction. Training was definitely secondary to having a good relationship. Therefore, I always encouraged and reinforced any behavior that showed initiative, independence, and her resolving problems her own way. This was (and is) my philosophy of education for any species. I think of my job as an educator as like being a travel guide, providing my students with opportunities to develop, to learn how to deal with their environment, to stand out from the crowd and not be just a self-denigrating face, but to make of themselves whatever they choose. If my dogs found ways to circumvent the rules and succeeded (that is what I call good canine argumentation and reasoning), I would reinforce that even at my own cost. In other words: I have always reinforced sound argumentation and conclusions consistent with their premises, even though they might have gone against my own wishes and, as the good sportsman my father educated me to be, when a better opponent on a better day beats me, I accept defeat gracefully. I applied the same philosophy to the education of my son.

When Daniel was little, we travelled a lot together. I always thought traveling, experiencing other ways of thinking and having other stances on life were good antidotes to narrow-mindedness and all that comes with it. On one occasion, we arrived at a guesthouse after a long journey and Daniel, by then about 9 or 10 years old and already an experienced traveler, quickly assessed the situation.

“OK, we have only one little bed,” he said.

“Yes, so I see,” I replied, whilst removing my heavy backpack, trying not to lose the car keys or spill our cokes.

“I have 50% of your genes and when I have kids, they’ll have 25% of your genes, right?” he asked rhetorically.

“For sure,” I said, amazed at what a kid could learn just by accompanying his daddy to talks and seminars whilst quietly drawing pictures at the back of the room.

“So if you want me to pass 25% of your silly genes to my kids, you have to take good care of me, right?” again a rhetorical question.

“Yes, absolutely,” I answered.

“OK, so I take the bed and you sleep on the floor,” he concluded.

I slept on the floor.

Petrine, the red, female English Cocker Spaniel was indeed one of a kind. I remember one day I had decided to invite guests for dinner and prepared a roastbeef to serve them. It was no mean feat considering my extremely limited culinary skills. I was in the living room surveying the table when I glanced towards the kitchen and my eyes registered a sight that caused instant paralysis of every muscle in my body, including my jaw, which gaped open as I recollect.

Next to the kitchen table, where I had placed the fruit of my hard labor, the once-in-a-lifetime masterpiece, my roastbeef, stood Petrine. That in itself is not reason enough to make me stop breathing and incite a serious and irreversible heart-attack you may think and you’re right, but add to that Petrine holding my roastbeef in her mouth and I think you will begin to understand the cause of my instant, full body paralysis. For a moment that seemed interminable, we stood there looking at one another, me, drop-jawed and paralyzed from head to toe, and Petrine with her deep brown eyes staring at me intensely, roastbeef in mouth.

If I was paralyzed, Petrine certainly was not.  She began to walk towards me with a swift, self confident, elegant pace, not once averting her gaze from mine. I merely stared in disbelief at her approach with the roast beef.  Without stopping, she trotted around me in a perfectly calculated circle  and sat right next to my left leg, lifting her head and the roastbeef towards me, her eyes still fixed on mine.

I think I took longer to react than I normally would on this type of occasion but I managed to bend down, take hold of the dummy (read roast-beef) and give the signal “Tak” (read release). I know I managed it because I remember trying to wipe away Petrine’s teeth marks from the roastbeef and placing it on a plate on the table ready to serve to my guests. I also remember that, even though my paralysis had only been momentary, my brain was still not fully functioning, as the next thing I heard was a barely perceptible whine from Petrine. I looked down to find her gazing up at me, wagging her tail and all lower body as cockers do. She was right and it was good of her to remind me. I was failing in my duties. “Free,” I said and, as swiftly, as elegantly and as self confidently as she had brought the roast-beef to me, she went off to perform some other of her daily chores. It had all been just another episode among the many life presents us with. No more, no less— or so it seemed to her.

It was only once the guests had gone, the kitchen tidy and Daniel in bed that, sitting on my porch and enjoying a well-deserved glass of Portuguese “vinho verde,” I cast my mind back to the Petrine episode. What had been going on?

As I told you, my philosophy of education encourages determination and reasoning and Petrine was good at that. She realized that she had been caught in the act. She had several options: one, to drop the roast beef and show submissive behavior (active and/or passive), which would have been accompanied by a “Phooey” from me, an ugly face and a very assertive tone of voice; two, to scoff as much of the roast beef as she could before I caught her, which wouldn’t have taken long considering I was no more than 6 meters (20 feet) away; three, to run away with the roast beef, which she could have done but I would inevitably have caught up with her. And, of course, she also had the option that she chose, which is not one I would have thought of myself. Why did she choose that option? All things considered, I believe it was the best option open to her, but what went through her head when she chose to do so, I would pay a handsome fee to know for sure.

None of my (attempted) scientific explanations succeed in convincing me fully. Having been caught would produce the “phooey” and ugly face, she knew perfectly well. Being the self-confident individual she was, I have no doubt she hated any “phooey.” That I could see clearly from her expression on the few occasions I had had to use it. She had been brought up to think for herself, to be imaginative and creative, and to believe in herself, not to be a pitiful dog waiting for her master’s voice before daring to blink.

If Petrine had rejected “phooey” as “an unacceptable means” of solving the conundrum, the only way to come out of it without losing face was to do what she did. She actually controlled the situation. If it is true that I could trigger her retrieving behavior (and that, combined with searching, was our best game in the whole wide world), by just assuming any position that remotely resembled “the game,” so too could she trigger my behavior, my part in the game. That, she did indeed. She showed me a perfect retrieve and put me in my role in the game. “Your line, now” she said to me, clearly and emphatically without even the need of words. Like an experienced actor playing a Shakespearian part, I reacted promptly to my cue.

If a behavior repeated often with fairly predictable consequences creates moods (Pavlovian conditioning) in all of us, independently of species, which seems to be the case, I have no doubt that she associated the retrieve game with the most pleasure she could have in life. When in trouble, we have a tendency to perform behaviors that previously have brought us success, pleasure. This is a reassuring procedure, the basis even for stereotyped behaviors according to some. It is an organism’s attempt to re-establish emotional (neurophysiologic) homeostasis. If this is the case, Petrine’s solution was a good one, an intelligent one (as we would say of ourselves) and entirely compatible with our body of knowledge. It may seem improbable at first, but it becomes more reasonable the more we think about it.

Some of you will still think I am anthropomorphizing and you have every right to do so. Pre-Petrine era, I would have thought the same. I would never have conceived of such an explanation. However, post-Petrine, a little dog that helped me discover many facets of life on Earth, I’m no longer so sure of the boundaries of anthropomorphism. Are intelligence, reasoning and self-respect only human features? In my opinion as an evolutionary biologist, it is unlikely. Maybe language is misleading us once again. As Carl Sagan wrote, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” After all, why should “we” be so radically different from “them”?

Whilst I wouldn’t dare to rely on the unobservable self-respect on a scientific study, I wouldn’t dare either not to rely on it at a personal level on any one-on-one relationship independently of species involved. Unobservable and un-measurable, it may be, yet it remains for me a solid guideline reminding me that I am but one among many.

Life is great!