Commentaries

The Human-Animal Bond, Birds, and Spring

Spring arrived the third week in March in my narrow New Hampshire river valley, signaling the end of a winter that began mid-October and seemed like it would never end. In retrospect I can recall all the signs of impending spring, but that rush of springness that suddenly occurs when nature reaches the seasonal tipping point invariably takes me by surprise. How, I wonder, do those who pay no attention to the natural world around them survive? Don’t they feel a tremendous sense of loss or at least some sense of emptiness in their lives? Possible answers to those

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Fighting, Football, and Animal Behavior

Given the current political penchant for touting war in this country, it’s difficult not to think about what animal behavior can teach us about fighting as a viable response to a real or imagined threat. Even those with only limited knowledge of animal behavior know that evolution rewards those species and individuals who get the job done using the least amount of energy: How does fighting to gain or hold on to resources rank as a valid survival strategy in terms of conservation of energy? A major up-front energy-saver takes the form of the majority of fighting being done

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From Whence Cometh the Human-Animal Bond?

The phrase “human-animal bond” or its variations now occur in the literature so often that the idea of asking where the bond comes from seems almost laughable. However when you try to pin someone down regarding the source, a certain amount of waffling often occurs. In general, probable sources fall into one of two categories: We may either inherent the potential or, barring that, we may learn it from others given the desire to do so and someone with the necessary knowledge to teach us. While some view this as an either/or question and champion their personal view while

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Words of Wisdom for Animal-Lovers

January invariably spawns numerous commentaries about resolutions we should make to resolve every problem known to plague everyone, including animals. For pet-owners this, in turn, may generate a multitude of promises to correct those animal-related problems which we soon break when the demands of daily living take hold again. Rather than contribute to that guilt-producing sequence, this year I offer three quotations from those much wiser than I which I believe are of particular value to all who enjoy interacting with the nonhuman animals who comprise the overwhelming majority of the animal life on this planet. The first, from

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Pet Gifts for the Holiday Season

Today began fairly typically for a pre-holiday day in off-the-beaten-track New Hampshire. I took the dogs out in the predawn hours, then listened to the news for as long as I could stomach it. Some days, though, I don’t get the news turned off soon enough, and the reports and rumors of wars, terrorist attacks, outbreaks of disease, economic ruin, and other real or fabricated human-created horrors that always seem to worsen this time of year make it difficult to focus my thoughts. “Is this any way to practice thanks-giving or the peace and good will of the holiday

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Lao-tzu and the Human-Animal Bond

Recently I had the opportunity to speak at the annual conference of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and, in one of those fits of inspiration that occur far too seldom when I seek to end a presentation just so, I remembered Lao-tzu’s words about teachers: Good teachers are best when students barely know they exist Not so good when students always obey and acclaim them Worse when students despise them. Of good teachers, when their work is done and their aims fulfilled, The student will say, “I did this myself.” In the past I’ve paraphrased this profound sentiment

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Behavioral Jargon: Enough Already!

I confess. When it comes to comprehending what some consider fundamental behavioral terminology, I am impaired. As soon as people start throwing jargon around, my eyes glaze and I can feel my brain cells shutting down, one by one. True, I also experience this problem when it comes to medical terminology, particularly now that I’ve reached the age when micro-organisms and surgical techniques receive make-overs and new names to go with them on what seems like an almost daily basis. However, keeping up with animal behavioral jargon is much more challenging because those working in this area come from

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Animal Behavior, Learning, and Playfulness

A friend recently acquired three kittens and has been in awe of the animals’ playfulness ever since. Ethologist Paul Leyhausen once stated that the more animals need to learn, the more they need to play. For small wildcat kittens and members of other solitary species who must learn all they need to survive before weaning, that makes for a very playful early life indeed! But even though young animals of all species do spend more time playing than adults, adult animals play, too. For many years scientists missed this reality, and that probably explains why some owners (and those

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Ruminations About Fighting Like Cats and Dogs and Dogs as Man’s Best Friend

To me one of the most enjoyable aspects of my work involves observing how animals normally interact with each other. And because cats and dogs are the most common domestic household pets, these supply a rich source of input. However, you don’t need to observe canine-feline interactions very long to realize that some, and possibly many, dogs and cats don’t subscribe to the antagonistic relationship described in the old saw “fighting like cats and dogs.” That raises the question of why some people wanted or may still want to believe this. Given the hypertext way my mind works, the

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Timid Cats, Timid Dogs, and the Human-Companion Animal Bond

Because I spend a fair amount of time working with aggressive animals and their owners, I naturally pay a lot of attention to how the general public and the media respond to these events. Within western society, we tend to take a villain-victim approach to what we perceive as an attack by one animal on another member of the same species. Aside from the fact that this completely disregards the fact that animals normally may communicate with members of their own species with teeth and claws and that what we perceive as an attack may not be an attack

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