Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pictureblogging 2: Partnerships

Blog- friend Cat Urbigkit is a rancher, sheepherder, and dog breeder who runs stock in southwestern Wyoming and writes wonderful children's books.

She recently told me a tale of the rivalry between a young stock- protection dog and a burro with the same job over who would control the sheep, especially five sheep the young Anatolian thought she "owned". Look at these photos.

An earlier generation of animal behaviorists breaks everything down into simple units. The herd- protection dog thinks it's a sheep (funny, they prefer dogs as mates); dogs' relation to sheep is subdued prey drive. (Yes, I do mean Ray Coppinger, who pioneered well but has become dogma personified). Perhaps the donkey thinks it is an Alpha.

I am more in the Vicki Hearne mode. Dogs and other intelligent animals have honor and ideas and very individual personalities and ways. And they do love and think they own "their" sheep.


Anonymous said...

Me, too.
Real rights. Reciprocal rights. "My" sheep. "My" dog.

Between photos of dogs, sheep, donkey, birds and !! literary dogs - my imagination is thrilled.

Some years ago talk in my breed list led me to build a deerhounds-in-fiction bibliography and then I built an even bigger deerhound bibliography. Year-end crunch and delight from introduction to the desert greyhound! book impedes memory thinking about dogs I read about as a wee girl (though a mirage of a sled dog story seems to be surfacing, alas I must confess to illiteracy for the author's name.)


Anonymous said...

I firmly believe dogs (and many other social animals) are more than intelligent enough to recognize members of other species as intelligent to some degree as well and relate to them accordingly. There's just too much unexplained if that weren't true.

My dogs understand that if I'm hugging them, I mean affection, and they love it. They understand wide, bared teeth as a happy smile. They know what laughter is and they can be incorrigible clowns to get it. They have no trouble recognizing that other dogs still mean to be rude with an embrace and still mean a threat with bared teeth. Through experience with our cat, they know a tail moving side to side is a threat and not a friendly gesture, and that when he rolls on his back he means to play, not submit.

They understand fully that other species have different ways of expressing concepts they at least somewhat understand.

Matt Mullenix said...

My feeling, dealing with different animals in the cooperative way that falconry requires, is that if you ignore language and take what you see and hear at face value, you have an excellent glimpse into the animals' worldview.

A recent study finds that chimps and college students have equal arithmetic ability (no kidding) when language ability is removed from the process of calculation. This makes perfect sense to me.

In the same way, subtracting all the layers of analysis and mental post-processing that language piles on to perception and memory, and you'll find your hawk and dog making a lot more sense (and vice versa).

When I first suspected this, I started to train my animals under something like this assumption: "If his eyes are open, he has an opinion. Make it a good one."

Now I've gone even further in my assumptions and try to treat my hawk or dog basically as I would a person who speaks no English.

For some things language is necessary. I'm not talking about higher-level math or medicine or architecture. Only how you would communicate to a person without a shared language the basic principles of a hunt. This is not rocket surgery, and anyone can do it.

You have to communicate with your actions. The animals get the point by watching you. It helps that hawks and dogs are smart and highly perceptive. Provided you act in a consistent manner and game flushes consistently in front of you, you get your point across perfectly. The fact that the animals can also learn some abstract words and gestures makes it even easier.

The end result looks to me, even after years of doing it, like magic.

Anonymous said...

My neat categories about species-specific behavior were blown apart the first time I saw a cutting horse at work. Doing a "predator's job."

I raise a breed of dog that refuses to be typed as either "stockdog" or "livestock guardian." Dog fanciers and Coppingeresque knowitalls refuse to believe that they are for real. Yes, both a dessert topping and a floor wax.

The more I learn of animals, the less I know.